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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Archibald MacLeish's poem Ars Poetica


  1. neda says:

    speaking about poem its an art that Macleish have this art and a good talent for showing it. he describe poem with unique and special adjectives

  2. Jesse says:

    What are some distinctive features of Macleish’s that make his poerty stand out. I need to know fast because i have to write a paper on that subject.

  3. Himanshu says:

    MacLeish says that the poem should express its meaning implicitly rather than putting it in explicit sentences. The essence of the poem lies in the imagery it uses. For instance, he says, “grief” can be depicted by images of ’empty doorway’ or ‘maple leaf’.

    Also the essence should not fade away with the passage of time i.e. the central idea of the poem should be relevant forever.

    The beauty of the poem is that all what is described as ‘the art of poetry’ is very effectively implemented in the poem itself.

    Ars poetica contains many similes and images that contribute to its essence.

  4. John says:

    Poetry is a simple way of expression because it is motionless and it leaves all description in memory. A poem does not need to be true bit it can be about anything need to be and that poetry is a work of art.

  5. puffpimpin says:

    Archibald is being paradoxical…if you know what that means

  6. alpal says:

    I second that!

  7. Bruce Deitrick Price says:

    3275 views and no comments. That tells us something. My own feeling is that MacLeish’s poem has been vastly oversold; and it has been responsible for a ton of bad poetry of the McPoem variety. In my essay “The Plight of Poetry” (find it in google) I’m pretty rough on Archibald, even throwing up my own Ars Poetica as a better model to follow. Now, when I’m in a sour mood from reading boring poetry, I try to compose what I call the Archibald–

    a poem should electrocute
    and be hairy like a kiwi fruit…

    Yes, that’s more like it.

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