The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ars Poetica” is a short poem in free verse, its twenty-four lines divided into three stanzas of four couplets each. The Latin title may be translated as “art of poetry,” “art of poetics,” or “poetic art.” Using the poetic form, the author attempts to portray his concept of the “art of poetry.” For this reason, “Ars Poetica” is often used as an example of what (and how) a poem “should be.”

The poem uses loosely rhymed couplets to project the author’s powerful images. A dash follows every third couplet, emphasizing the importance of the fourth couplet in summing up the stanza. In the beginning, MacLeish draws the reader in with three couplets that compare a poem to various physical objects and which seem perfect in both word and cadence. These similes appear to illustrate the author’s belief that a poem must be silent in its clarity, transcending words themselves. In the final couplet of the first stanza, he repeats the phrase “A poem should be.” While the first six lines describe objects in repose, the last couplet both ties together and climaxes the building images by sending the reader upward in the rush of birds taking to the sky.

In the second stanza, the poem becomes more specific, using the stark image of branches silhouetted against a moon to denote the eternal quality of a poem. MacLeish repeats the first couplet in the last two lines: “A poem should be motionless in time/ As the moon climbs.”...

(The entire section is 483 words.)