Definition of the Frontiers

By Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982 Archibald MacLeish
First there is the wind but not like the familiar wind but long and without lapses or falling away or surges of air as is usual but rather like the persistent pressure of a river or a running tide.

   This wind is from the other side and has an odor unlike the odor of the winds with us but like time if time had odor and were cold and carried a bitter and sharp taste like rust on the taste of snow or the fragrance of thunder.

   When the air has this taste of time the frontiers are not far from us.

   Then too there are the animals. There are always animals under the small trees. They belong neither to our side nor to theirs but are wild and because they are animals of such kind that wildness is unfamiliar in them as the horse for example or the goat and often sheep and dogs and like creatures their wandering there is strange and even terrifying signaling as it does the violation of custom and the subversion of order.

   There are also the unnatural lovers the distortion of images the penetration of mirrors and the inarticulate meanings of the dreams. The dreams are in turmoil like a squall of birds.

   Finally there is the evasion of those with whom we have come. It is at the frontiers that the companions desert us—that the girl returns to the old country

   that we are alone.

Archibald MacLeish, “Definition of the Frontiers” 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)

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Poet Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects Nature, War & Conflict, Animals, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

 Archibald  MacLeish

Biography

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 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, War & Conflict, Animals, Social Commentaries

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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