Archibald Macleish – Ars Poetica

“A poem should not mean   
But be.”

– Archibald Macleish

E.E. Cummings wrote, “A poet is somebody who feels… but not a single person can be taught to feel.” Poetry according to Cummings is the art of feeling, the art of knowing and expressing a personal truth. Archibald Macleish was a modernist American poet who fought in the First World War who won the Pulitzer Prize for his epic poem Conquistador in 1932. Ars Poetica is a shorter, simpler verse reflecting on poetry itself; it’s silence, it’s stillness and the way in which it has a presence of its own that stretches beyond meaning.

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 (1892-1982)
From: Collected Poems 1917 to 1982

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