Archibald MacLeish – Ars Poetica

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Archibald MacLeish

MacLeish’s expatriate years brought him into contact with Ernest Hemingway and the generación perdue literary community in Paris in the early 20s. Hemingway –not known for kindness to old friends– was unable to land any meaningful punches on the affable, erudite MacLeish.

In this MacLeish implicitly besought poets to transmit whole the very experiences & visualizations that inspired them, not to represent that inspiration somehow. Let the love you feel upon beholding a singularly captivating river stone be the poem, not a retelling of the moment the poet fell in love with the stone. The former brings the reader into the poet’s eye; the latter irrelevant minutia.

Ars Poetica

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

-Archibald MacLeish, 1925


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