Archaic Torso of Apollo
by R.M. Rilke
Trans. by H. Landman
We never knew his fantastic head,
where eyes like apples ripened. Yet
his torso, like a lamp, still glows
with his gaze which, although turned down low,
lingers and shines. Else the prow of his breast
couldn't dazzle you, nor in the slight twist
of his loins could a smile run free
through that center which held fertility.
Else this stone would stand defaced and squat
under the shoulders' diaphanous dive
and not glisten like a predator's coat;
and not from every edge explode
like starlight: for there's not one spot
that doesn't see you. You must change your life.
"Not one spot/that doesn't see you." Art confronts life. Life confronts art. In the end, there is the abrupt order: "You must change your life."
This poem has always intrigued me. It ends with very prosaic words of advice: you must change your life. I turn a new leaf this month. And it seems that at every major turn, I find myself looking at my life... perhaps like one would look at a sculpture or a painting. How did this nuance come about? What must I change? Does this have anything to do with what I want in life? What I have pledged my life to be? It's the same feeling I get when I read one of Jane Hirshfield's poems: you watch the lion and then you enter the lion, become the lion. Sometimes that's how one must view one's life sometimes. As an observer and also, at the same time, as the subject.
Lately, the important questions have been emerging again. Perhaps because I've just attended a pre-marriage seminar. Perhaps because so much has been happening at work. Perhaps because the changes are all merging and transforming me as I write this. I'm overwhelmed. Yet this life and what I've made of it must surely glow with something larger than myself, a purpose that fastens me to a greater end... else "this stone would stand defaced and squat."
I must change my life.
And survive it... at least this week.