The Rock in the Sea

By Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982 Archibald MacLeish
Think of our blindness where the water burned!   
Are we so certain that those wings, returned   
And turning, we had half discerned   
Before our dazzled eyes had surely seen   
The bird aloft there, did not mean?—   
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
Tasting of daphne, the enormous wave   
Thundering in the water cave—
Thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff   
And climbed the coral of that iron cliff
And found what only in our hearts we’d heard—   
The silver screaming of that one, white bird:   
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
That opened, red as blood, to shriek
And clamor in that world of stone,
No voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,   
Found in the bird its metaphor?

Archibald MacLeish, “The Rock in the Sea” 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


Subjects Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Animals, Nature

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 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 . . .

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SUBJECT Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Animals, Nature


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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