A poem should be palpable and mute   
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
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, “Ars Poetica” from Collected Poems 1917-1982. Copyright © 1985 by The Estate of Archibald MacLeish. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

  • Source: Collected Poems 1917-1952 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1952)

Poet Bio

What People are Saying

"I did not expect to fall in love with poetry. I just expected to recite and be done with it. After just sitting there and analyzing my poems, I realized that the stories told through these few words mean so much. I had to step out of myself and step into the author's shoes, and with that comes great work."
Kyla Rose Bates
2016 LA POL Champion