A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poem of the Day: Archibald MacLeish

You, Andrew Marvell 

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth's noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent rier gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on

And deepen on Palmyra's street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on...
--Archibald MacLeish

Say this about MacLeish: He had chutzpah. Not only did he recast the book of Job into a now-forgotten play, J.B., which won him a Pulitzer Prize, but in this poem he invokes one of the greatest poems in the language. "You, Andrew Marvell" is skillfully done, but it's a bit of a travelogue, lacking the wit and passion of the poem it alludes to. Otherwise, MacLeish is most famous for the couplet that ends his poem "Ars Poetica":
A poem should not mean
But be.
Some of of us think a poem should do both.