Study Guide

Ars Poetica Quotes

  • Art and Culture

    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit, (1-2) 

    In other words, we should sense a poem but not feel as if it's hitting us over the head with a sledgehammer on purpose. So art and poetry should work in a way that's sensual, but not overexerting itself in purpose and effort.

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds. (7-8)

    Yea, yea, you've heard it a million times already, but it's got a certain "wordless" and effortless ring to it, which is how good poetry should read. It should "say" things without necessarily shouting things in our ears. It should sound free like the flitting birds high above us.

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs, (9-10)

    Good poetry should also be timeless. It should endure all the moving and shaking of the times and be just as natural and fluid as the moon climbing in the sky. So essentially, it should tap into those parts of our humanity that are just as timeless.

    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true. (17-18)

    Everyone got that? Take out your graphing paper and slide rules, and make a note. Poetry does not equal truth, in the capital T, only-one-reality sense of the word "truth." Poetry is not supposed to describe reality, it's supposed to evoke it and inspire our own individualized reflections (truths, plural, and with a lower-case "t").

    A poem should not mean
    But be. (23-24)

    Words to live by, all you budding young poets. Don't torture your reader with your "insights"; inspire them with your sense of the world around you.

  • Versions of Reality

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs, (9-10)

    If reality is defined by the temporal world, then a poem will have to leave all that behind and be "motionless in time." So a poem operates in a different kind of reality that's not restricted to all the typical physical stuff.

    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
    Memory by memory the mind— (13-14)

    A poem shouldn't be just about one individual's interpretation of reality based on his or her memories alone. It should "leave" that behind and rise above the scope of a limited interpretation of reality.

    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true. (17-18)

    Well, if a poem should be equal to "not true," then we definitely understand the speaker's idea that a poem's version of reality shouldn't be "real" in any textbook sense. It shouldn't try so hard to pigeonhole life in any concrete sense but should rather be its own fluid representation of "reality."

  • Language and Communication

    As a globed fruit, (1-2)

    What do you think it means that we should be able to touch a poem, but not hear it?

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds. (7-8)

    We can't hear the flight of birds (unless it's those honkin' geese), but the beauty of them flying is what's really important. Likewise, the beauty and feeling of a poem should be palpable, but we shouldn't have to hear a bunch of noise to go along with it.

    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true. (17-18)

    A poem shouldn't communicate "truths" to us. It should equal something in the sense of a "truth" being felt rather than told. So a poem shouldn't seek to define anything for us but should rather inspire us to think and feel freely.