Today I awoke with Archibald MacLeish on my mind. Back in the day, he was another dead white guy—librarian, poet, statesman—whose name showed up on my freshman syllabus.
I do not remember the reading for that day. Did I read it? Likely, I skipped off on a shiny April afternoon in my lime-green, white polka-dotted Speedo for a slow, mile-long swim that functioned as my daily meditation—easy side stroke alternating with breast stroke. I rather liked the latter—the whip-kick churn, a peep at my reflection just before the pop-up for breath, an instant of poolside crowd yacks and kid’s shrill thrills in the shallows, and then back under for the safety of muffled water, or “cloudy sounds.” Thought flowed nebulously or a poem fragment hummed and then disappeared.
Yes, I kept my head in the clouds while underwater.
MacLeish disappeared until my study of creative writing a year later, when his celebrated turn of phrase in “Ars Poetica” tuned my mind to something finer:
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 not mean
That was then. And for my now, another MacLeish phrase surfaces: “When one expects to go on ‘forever’ as one does in one’s youth or even middle age, horizons are merely limits, not yet ends. It is when one first sees the horizon as an end that one first begins to see.”
My inclination is to modify the ending of that sentiment: “if one chooses to see.”
MacLeish uttered many fine lines in his lengthy career. A few linger with me. Autumn has turned, with the perspective of my underwater youth yielding to another of his shimmering images:
“To see the earth as we now see it, small and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night—brothers who see now they are truly brothers.”
Where does that sentiment breathe today—beyond a handful of contemplative scientists on the International Space Station? I suspect in a number of earthbound souls.
For all the beauty of that quote, MacLeish was a grounded guy. I’ll leave you with two more thoughts:
“The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life—to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity.”
“Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing. What is necessary now is one thing and one thing only that democracy become again democracy in action, not democracy accomplished and piled up in goods and gold.”
Peace out, my friends.
The Daily Post Response: Privacy (I found it underwater; swimming blocks invasive noise.)