Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three to four 50-minute class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


Poetry and Art Home

Lesson Overview

In part one, students explore the theme of transformation in text and art by reading the story of Apollo and Daphne from Ovid's Metamorphoses and studying works of art related to the poem. In part two, students read an ekphrastic poem by Rainer Maria Rilke and study a related work of art. They then write an original poem that explores the theme of transformation.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• read and analyze ancient and modern texts.
• interpret and compare literary and visual works of art.
• compose poems using metaphor.


• Reproduction of Apollo and Daphne by Jan Boeckhorst
• Reproduction of Apollo Crowning Himself by Antonio Canova
• Reproduction of Young Man by an unknown artist
• Copies of "Daphne and Phoebus" (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 1, lines 452—566) (available on the Theoi E-Texts Library Web site at
• Copies of the poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo," by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell (available on the Academy of American Poets Web site at
• Paper
• Pencils

Lesson Steps

Part One: Apollo and Daphne

1. Distribute copies of "Daphne and Phoebus" to your students. Allow them time to read the story once quietly. Then ask for volunteers to take turns reading each paragraph aloud.

2. Inform students that the god Apollo was called by different names, depending on which role or duty he was fulfilling in a story. In Roman stories, he commonly was called Phoebus when referring to his role as the god of light. (At times the names Helios and Sol were also used to refer to his stewardship of the sun.)

3. Discuss the story with the following prompts:
• What motivates each of the main characters? (Apollo, known for his usual restraint, boasts of his superiority to Cupid. Cupid is mischievous, and proves tricky in his ability to transform the god into a love-crazed fool. Daphne, already known for her chastity, becomes all the more revolted by the lust directed at her.)
• What problem sets the drama in motion? (Wanting to teach the pompous god a lesson, the mischievous Cupid shot two arrows at the unsuspecting Apollo and the mortal Daphne. Struck by a golden arrow true to love, Apollo became enraptured by the beautiful nymph. At the same time, however, a lead arrow struck the nymph, turning her feelings to those of revulsion.)
• How does Apollo try to convince Daphne of his love? (The arrow transformed the usually sober character of Apollo into a lustful pursuant of the chaste nymph. His lovelorn attempts include listing his admirable qualities, including his divine strengths and heritage.)
• How did Daphne escape his pursuit? (She prays to her father, a river god, that her purity remain intact and that her beauty be destroyed. Ultimately, she is transformed into a laurel tree.)
• How is the human body compared to a tree? (The hair, like leaves, hides the face; arms like branches; feet like roots; the abdomen, the trunk, etc.)
• What is Apollo's solution to his loss of love? (He fashions some leaves from the tree in the form of a crown to wear upon his head to remember his love for Daphne.)

4. Display a reproduction of Jan Boeckhorst's drawing Apollo and Daphne. Open a discussion with students about the drawing, using the following questions:
• What part of the story does the artist draw in this image?
• How would you interpret the characters' expressions?
• What does their body language suggest to you?
• Diagonal lines suggest movement and drama. Can you locate diagonal lines throughout the composition?
• What type of mood is suggested by the colors that are used?
• Artists can use strong light and shadow side by side to draw attention to important details in a scene. Where can you see this effect?
• If you were to compliment the artist for this drawing, what would you say he does well? (Use this question as an open summation for the experience of the work of art.)

5. Share with students that artists often interpret stories from the past in original works of art. Stories from ancient Greece and Rome have been interpreted and reinterpreted for centuries. Ask students if they can think of a film that is inspired by Greek or Roman mythology. Next, ask them if they have a favorite story that was made into a movie.

6. Display an image of Antonio Canova's Apollo Crowning Himself. Inform students that this classically inspired sculpture, like many of its kind, displays the heroic nudity of its subject. Nudity in art was reserved for mythological subjects, with the gods and goddesses nude as compared to clothed humanity. Clothing is one sign of culture, thus, nudity suggests the natural world rather than that of culture. That the gods are shown in the nude (natural) human form has paradoxical consequences. The nudity brings the deity into the realm of human emotion, experience, and expression, since the body is recognizable to the viewer. Simultaneously, however, the nudity distances the deity from the mortal (clothed/cultured) experience, especially when the nude form suggests an idealized, immortal beauty.

7. Open a discussion with your students by suggesting that sculptural art often presents characters isolated from the narrative context or setting. Hence, the focus shifts from the action of the story to the content of the character.
• What does the sculptor convey about the character of Apollo through his pose? (One leg is engaged and the other is relaxed, suggesting an air of aloofness or distraction, perhaps dumbstruck by love; his hand holds the leaves of the laurel, making Daphne's presence tangible, even in the transformation.)
• What does the sculptor convey about Apollo through his expression? (The expression is blank, which is quite common in the stoic demeanor of ancient statuary. The emotion seemingly turns inward—stoic and reserved—rather than manifesting itself in an outward expression of loss.)

Inform students that marble itself was a noble material that connected the work of art to the ancient world; its pristine white surface seems to suggest divine qualities of light. Modern sculptors imagined the pristine white as "classic" for their "Neoclassical" artworks, when in fact ancient sculptures more often were colorfully painted.

Part Two: Ekphrasis and Rilke's Poetry

1. Inform students that they will discuss other works of literary and visual art that explore the theme of transformation. Display an image of Young Man and distribute copies of a translation of the ekphrastic poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo" by Rainer Maria Rilke. Give students time to read the poem once quietly. Then ask for volunteers to take turns reading each stanza aloud.

2. Inform your students that the poem was translated from German. With any translation there is a loss of meaning, whether in its words, rhythm, rhyme, or form. Consider sharing a copy of the original to bring to light the pattern of rhyming words at the end of the lines in German (abba, cddc, eef, gfg). Read the original German text in the article "And Yet Another Archaic Torso—Why?" on the Jacket Magazine Web site at (Note: The poem is in the form of a sonnet. This type of poem may open with one idea—an argument—that may come to resolution by the end, a traditional transformation in sonnets. For more information on sonnets, visit

3. Open a discussion about the poem by asking students the following:
• What is happening in the poem? (A speaker expresses his thoughts while experiencing a fragment of an ancient sculpture. While only the torso remains, the individual experiences much in it, and from it.)
• In the poem the speaker tries to describe the object that he sees. Where can you find examples of figurative language in the poem? (Point out that the speaker uses simile ["eyes like ripening fruit; " a lamp"] and hyperbole ["suffused with brilliance from inside"].)
• Have you ever been struck by something that you considered great but didn't have the words to describe? Have you ever experienced a deep and powerful reaction to something that happened all of a sudden?

4. Display an image of Young Man and ask the following questions:
• Consider the sculpture you saw before (Antonio Canova's Apollo Crowning Himself). Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast it with the fragment of Young Man. What is similar, and what is different? (Both are carved from stone, both are male subjects; one is divine, the other is human; one is nude, the other is clothed [see part 1, step 6, to review heroic nudity].)
• Inform students that many objects from the ancient world are fragmentary due to the ravages of time, the elements, and human intervention. Suggest to your students that fragments present scholars with an interesting set of problems. What questions might a scholar want to ask if he or she discovered a fragment? (What is its original context? What is missing? Who made it? What was its function? It is extremely rare to have a full history of any work of art, particularly fragments.)
• What do you think draws someone's attention to a fragmentary work of art (e.g., curiosity of what is unknown, space for the imagination, a barometer of time and loss)?

5. Have students write a poem that describes a transformation they've experienced. Challenge them to take the reader through the experience from a description to an emotional, reflective, or philosophical impact. Have students consider the following:
• What inspired your transformation? Was it an object, a person, or an event?
• Use simile and hyperbole to describe the experience. Try to describe something by saying what it is like.
• How will you end your poem? Will you include a message or call to action like in Rilke's poem?

6. After students have written their first drafts, invite them to share their poems with partners first. Have partners discuss the poems by responding to the following questions:
• Which line or description do you think is most effective? Why?
• Which parts of the poem would benefit from further explanation or detail?

7. Give students time to address their peers' feedback. Then ask for volunteers to read their completed poems aloud to the class. Have students listen for the figurative language employed by their peers.


• Refer to Poetry and Music in Antiquity to evaluate how Apollo is portrayed in other tales. Many gods and goddesses emerge as individual, complex characters that are multifaceted and multidimensional entities, whether in singular works or across generations of poets' writings. Compare and contrast how Apollo is presented differently in the various texts and images.
• Encourage students to create an object for display during the performance of their poem that symbolizes the transformation they addressed in their writing.
• Discuss another example of transformation from ancient mythology—the tale of Queen Niobe, who wept so much that Zeus turned her into stone. Display an image of Red-Figure Loutrophoros by an unknown artist and discuss which parts of the story are depicted on the vessel.
• Connect to biological science by exploring examples of transformation that occur in nature (e.g., butterflies).


Students will be assessed on their ability to:
• analyze ancient and modern texts.
• interpret and compare literary and visual works of art.
• compose poems using metaphor.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–10

Reading: Literature
RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Speaking and Listening
1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Grades 11–12

Reading: Literature
RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RL.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards

Grades 9–12

R.CCR.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
R.CCR.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
R.CCR.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
R.CCR.10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
W.CCR.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
SL.CCR.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grades 9–12
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Compare the ways in which the meaning of a specific work of art has been affected over time because of changes in interpretation and context