Undergraduates and Cambridge dowagers filled Sanders Theatre yesterday afternoon to hear Archibald MacLeish discuss "Words as Signs." The Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory is giving a series of public lectures on "Poetry as Experience."
MacLeish distinguished between the sound and sense of words, pointing out that only a few words in any language (like "buzz" or "hum") have a sound which fits their meaning.
In poetry, he felt, the meaning of the words is often insignificant. Using an anonymous poem entitled "The Maidens Came" as an example, he also indicated that the ideas in a poem often seem unrelated. The poet's message, then, is carried by the other factors of the poem, such as the structure of its lines and the rhythm of its words.
Finally, he proposed that a poem could even say things that were false, and still mean a great deal because "emotion brings to truth" its "structure of untruth."