Lines for a Prologue

By Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982 Archibald MacLeish
These alternate nights and days, these seasons   
Somehow fail to convince me. It seems   
I have the sense of infinity!

(In your dreams, O crew of Columbus,   
O listeners over the sea
For the surf that breaks upon Nothing—)

Once I was waked by the nightingales in the garden.   
I thought, What time is it? I thought,   
Time—Is it Time still?—Now is it Time?

(Tell me your dreams, O sailors:   
Tell me, in sleep did you climb   
The tall masts, and before you—)

At night the stillness of old trees   
Is a leaning over and the inertness   
Of hills is a kind of waiting.

(In sleep, in a dream, did you see   
The world’s end? Did the water
Break—and no shore—Did you see?)

Strange faces come through the streets to me   
Like messengers: and I have been warned   
By the moving slowly of hands at a window.

Oh, I have the sense of infinity—   
But the world, sailors, is round.   
They say there is no end to it.

Archibald MacLeish, “Lines for a Prologue” from Collected Poems 1917-1982. Copyright © 1985 by The Estate of Archibald MacLeish. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Collected Poems 1917-1952 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1952)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982


Subjects Time & Brevity, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Archibald  MacLeish


A poet, playwright, lawyer, and statesman, Archibald MacLeish's roots were firmly planted in both the new and the old worlds. His father, the son of a poor shopkeeper in Glasgow, Scotland, was born in 1837—the year of Victoria's coronation as Queen of England—and ran away first to London and then, at the age of eighteen, to Chicago. His mother was a Hillard, a family that, as Dialogues of Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Nature


Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.