What is the poem's dominant figure of speech-why does the author compare poetry to fruit to medallions to casement ledges and the flight of birds?
A poem should be a 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 behind the winter leaves, memory by memory the mind
a poem should be equal to:
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
In Archibald MacLeish's poem, Ars Poetica, (The Art of Poetry) one critic states that the reader encounters didacticism in the guise of ars gratia artis. That is, the reader is instructed while the poet gratuitously provides a poem at the same time.
The poem's dominant figure of speech is its controlling metaphor: a poem is a timeless, infinite work of the imagination. That is, the poem is a metaphor for poetry itself. In comparing a poem to the objects that he does, MacLeish creates the metaphor of universality and timeless essence. For instance, in the first stanza, the speaker suggests with the use of the images of fruit, medallions, stone, and the flight of birds, that a poem should not boldly announce what it is; instead, it should suggest meanings.
In the second stanza, the speaker uses the simile of the moon as motionless in time to imply that a poem, like the moon, is present for whomever reads it at any given time. It is universal, fresh, alive, and lighted with truth for any given reader at any given time.
And, finally, a poem has meaning for whomever reads it. That is, a poem may have variances in interpretation and yet be "equal to." For example,
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf
This metaphor expresses grief, but some readers may interpret the empty doorway as the loss of a loved one, or an opportunity, or someone who once stood in this doorway, such as a father, who is now gone.
Because it is not confined to such specific ideas as a speech, or an essay, or even a novel, MacLeish contends a poem "should not mean/but be." These last two lines are famous, and often quoted in anthologies of poetry.