Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Critical Analysis

Ok, so I said I would attempt an analysis of the Rilke poem I posted, Early Apollo. I have my own presumptions considering the meaning of the poem but that doesn't necessarily mean they are final or subject to change.

As a disclaimer, I would like to remind you that this poem is a translation so an analysis considering specific word usage is not really possible. I can only give a general analysis concerning the purported meaning of the poem rather than how it was conveyed formally.

Once again, here is the poem:

As sometimes between the yet leafless branches
a morning looks through that is already
radiant with spring: so nothing of his head
could prevent the splendor of all poems

from striking us with almost lethal force;
for there is yet no shadow in his gaze,
his temples are yet too cool for the laurel crown,
and only later from his eyebrow' arches

will the rose garden lift up on tall stems,
from which petals, loosened, one by one
will drift down on the trembling of his mouth,

which now is yet quiet, never-used, and gleaming
and only drinking something with its smile
as though its song were being instilled in him


I will begin with the title and the first stanza, at least for now, and focus primarly on that for this post.

Firstly, the title of the poem is "Early Apollo"

Apollo was a greek and roman diety who was the "prophectic diety of the Delphic Oracle" and "was the archer-god of medicine and healing, light, truth, archery and also a bringer of death-dealing plague." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo)

Also, within literature and philosophy Apollo is one half of a literary concept of Apollinian vs Dinonysian. Within this dichotomy, Apollo (or Apollinian) means the following:

the dream state, principium individuationis (principle of individuation), plastic (visual) arts, beauty, clarity, stint to formed boundaries, individuality, celebration of appearance/illusion, human beings as artists (or media of art's manifestation), self-control, perfection, exhaustion of possibilities, creation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollonian_and_Dionysian)

One could consider "Early Apollo" to mean early Apollionian impulses in art. As a concept Apollo represents the individuation of an idea into a concrete art form. That is, the materialization of an idea or a feeling into a work of art. Early Apollo could mean an artist still in the gestating period of becoming an artist. Or they are an amateur artist or an artist in training.

It could also be a young version of the God, Apollo. However, Rilke had written another poem for the same book (New Poems) called "Archaic Torso of Apollo" which although bearing the name of the same God was written about a sculpture that was not a representation of that God. In fact, the sculpture Rilke wrote about was called "A Youth at Miletus".

One would imagine that Rilke was not writing about the God, but a conceptualization of the God that he applied to the sculpture. Which in itself would seem contradictory if he was applying the idea of Apollo to something that was already a material, or visual, art work. However, this concerns the poem Archaic Torso of Apollo, but one wonders if Rilke did not apply the same idea to the earlier poem in the book. They are definitely related to each other in more than just their name sake, but also in the fact that in the separate halves of New Poems each begins the section it appears in.

And also considering that the intent of New Poems was to write poems that were supposed to be "thing poems" (an idea that was directly influenced by the sculptures of Auguste Rodin) or to reflect thingness by harnessing the true essence of each thing through words. One is lead to speculate if Early Apollo was in fact written about another sculpture. Of course, it may well have been but I do not have that information and I am merely lead to assume that it was very likely.

On to the first stanza:

As sometimes between the yet leafless branches
a morning looks through that is already
radiant with spring: so nothing of his head
could prevent the splendor of all poems

"As sometimes between the yet leafless branches"

This line already says a lot. It is very dense in very few words. "yet leafless branches" implies a time before the branches will become leafless, possibly late summer before the beginning of autumn. Something happens ocassionaly between these branches that are not yet leafless but will be leafless soon, or at least eventually. Leafless also implies death or possibly ven nakedness. When planets or trees die in the fall and winter they shed their leaves or flowers. If they are not yet leafless but will be soon, then they must be reaching a time when they will lose their leaves or flowers. This could mean either drawing closer to death or old age or both.

"a morning looks through that is already
radiant with spring"

A morning looks through that is already radiant with spring. The first line sets up a period of time before the branches are leafless yet already a morning has begun that signals the arrival of spring. I believe this reinforces the hypothesis that the time alluded to in the first line is immediately before the beginning of the fall. However, although the arrival of fall would imply death and the loss of trees leaves a morning is already coming through that already predicts the coming of the next season.

Spring is the season or renewal, resilience, rebirth and birth in general. Life returns after it has been hibernating during the cold autumn and winter. So if those months or seasons of death have not even begun and a morning (which itself is a renewal, or a beginning of life) has already begun to shine through the branches that eventually will become leafless one imagines a cyclical process of death and rebirth. The speaker predicts before the death even occurs that it will ultimately lead to a rebirth into a more realized form.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, radiant could mean sending out light, burning brightly, or expressive of lively joy or hope. As meantioned earlier, Apollo was the God of Light. And in literature he was the god who characterized the formal aspect of art. Thus it could mean the realization of a birth (ie Spring) through the formalization of a work of art. To harness light into an individuated material work of art.

The rebirth is already predicted before the death even occurs as if to anticipate it or to be aware of the cycle. It is the morning and the spring that characterize the light, however. Light is never implicitly stated but it is suggested in a morning looking through "yet leafless branches". Also, morning is personified in the sense that is "looks through" the "yet leafless branches and it is the morning that is radiant with spring. The morning, this beginning of a new day, which however is still before the death or the renewal, is what is anticipatory in the line. Let us suggest that this morning before the eventual death is either a movement or a style of either a group of artists or a single artist. You can assume that the next level is already foreshadowed within the movement or style that preceeded it. As if it is new movement or this new style is directly related to whatever came before it. That although the old movement might die it is still responsible for what is to come next. It is from the ashes of whatever is facing death that something will be born. It is through the "yet leafless branches" that "the morning is already radiant with spring".

Something new is coming whose influence is derived from something on the verge of death.

"So nothing of his head
could prevent the splendor of all poems"

Two possible definitions for Head that might fit the context of the poem are:

"As the seat of mind, thought, intellect, memory, or imagination" (OED)

"As a part essential to life; hence, in phrases, = life." (OED)


Paradoxically, this could mean that through the formation of the poem as an embodiment in and of itself, the individuals intellect, memory or imagination are not equally projected upon it. Rather, while the poem is imbued with life it is the embodiment of light rather than the motivations of the writer. The light, as characterized through morning and spring is given form when it travels through the "yet leafless branches". The light itself is given a form other than itself when it is alluded to through both morning and spring. the spring is "radiant" so it is a Spring of light, a renewal or a birth through light and light is given form when it shines through the branches.

The poem, as the embodiment of a thing or an object is not comprised by the individual intentions of the artist. Rather, it stands alone and becomes a thing-in-itself. The splendor of the poem is no longer in the intent of the artist. It has its own essence.

Also, if the time the poem suggests is in fact the end of summer and the beginning of autumn this could mean where the poets intent ends, dies, and how through the rediscovery of the poem as a thing-in-itself meaning is reborn. There is a disconnection between that life at the end of Summer and the beginning of Spring. yet it is that very summer that anticipates the arrival of spring. As if in the creative process of writing the poem the author expects his or her own meaning to die before it meets the audience or the reader. That meanining is reborn through the discovery of the poem, yet its "Head" does not affect how the poem is understood. It's "Head" the life it was imbued with through the artist does not affect how the reader is affected by the poem.

It is the arrival of a new art form that views the poem as a thing-in-itself and anticipates a disassociated relationship between artist and audience.


Bleh. ok, I'm done for the night. This is the first time I have ever put this kind of analysis down on anything. I have always interpreted poems in my head or through spoken word, but I never actually typed it out or wrote it out on my own.

This is my own personal interpretation of the poem thus far. There may have been quite a few things I missed or did not pick up on and for that I apologize. This is how I view the poem. I am still new at this yet I hope with time and effort my abilities continue to evolve.

I will continue with the rest of the poem once I have time.

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