Archibald MacLeish

(7 May 1892 – 20 April 1982 / Glencoe, Illinois)

Ars Poetica

Poem by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit

As old medallions to the thumb

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind -

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

A poem should be equal to:
Not true

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

A poem should not mean
But be

Form: Ars Poetica

Comments about Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish

  • Michael WalkerMichael Walker (8/7/2019 9:36:00 PM)

    'A poem should not mean/ But be'. I could not put it any better than that.(Report)Reply

    0 person liked.
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  • James McNaney (2/22/2019 6:42:00 AM)

    Impeccably brilliant.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Dutendra ChamlingDutendra Chamling (11/1/2015 3:31:00 AM)

    ...A poem should not mean
    But be...

    asks for other poet's ideology.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Soumita SarkarSoumita Sarkar (9/9/2015 1:14:00 AM)

    True following the lines of Formalism...a poem has its own soul...self...beginning..middle and has a life of its own laced with the qualities mentioned in this poem.....(Report)Reply

    Souren MondalSouren Mondal(2/12/2016 9:42:00 AM)

    What if someone writes a fragmented poem that has none of the formalist tendencies then? ?

    0 person liked.
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  • Cynthia Buhain-baelloCynthia Buhain-baello (1/15/2015 5:10:00 AM)

    The flow and style prolific and very creative, giving impact to each concept effortlessly. This poem was one of the many I kept in memory for its meaning and message.(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • Kin Zweb (7/31/2012 12:11:00 AM)

    He all-time best poem ever written. The epitome of Imagist verse. Contains seven vignettes unparalleled in succinctness of expression. The reader must, of course, 'flesh out' the bare bones MacLeish lays out, but what a pleasure to reread, from the opening lines!(Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • Jessica Fay Harding (4/4/2010 12:09:00 PM)

    I love this poem! It's one of my favourite ones that embodies the free spirit of poetry and how this freedom is ruined by scrupulous examination of its' verses.(Report)Reply

    20 person liked.
    8 person did not like.
  • Mackenzie Keane (3/4/2010 4:52:00 PM)

    'a poem should not mean, but be' :)(Report)Reply

    17 person liked.
    7 person did not like.
  • Jalisa Harbin (12/18/2007 9:28:00 AM)

    how many lines is the poem composed of?(Report)Reply

    8 person liked.
    19 person did not like.
Read all 10 comments »

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Read poems about / on: poem, history, memory, moon, grief, winter, sea, time, night, love, tree

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003