Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois, and educated at Yale, Harvard, and Tufts universities. After World War I, in which he served as a captain in the artillery, MacLeish returned to teach in the Harvard Law School. Subsequently, he left teaching to practice law in Boston, but gave up a successful practice because "he never could believe in it." He wanted to write poetry. In 1923 he left for Paris with his wife and children in order to submerge himself in the literary atmosphere of that city and to write his own poetry in his own way. "I speak to my own time/To no time after," he wrote, and dated the beginning of his life from the year 1923. While in France, MacLeish produced three volumes of poetry¡XStreets In The Moon (1926), The Hamlet Of A. MacLeish (1928), and New Found Land (1930)¡Xthe success of which was assurance that his decision to turn from law to poetry had indeed been a wise one. After he returned to the United States in l928, MacLeish went to Mexico, where he retraced Cortes' route from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to the valley of Tenochtitlan. The result was a narrative poem, Conquistador, based on Bernal Diaz's True History Of The Conquest Of New Spain, published in l932. The following year it received the Pulitzer Prize. Shortly after publication of Conquistador, MacLeish became a member of the staff of Time and Fortune magazines, writing articles for the latter magazine that set standards of journalistic excellence in "documentary" literature. Displaying the same skill that distinguished his articles in Fortune, MacLeish also wrote experimental plays for radio production, The Fall Of The City (1937) and Air Raid (1938). In 1939 MacLeish was appointed Librarian of Congress and received an honorary degree from Yale. These honors soon brought to him other advancements in his career, and in 1944 he was appointed public relations counsel in the office of the Secretary of State. Although MacLeish won a Pulitzer Prize for a narrative poem, his poetic reputation rests largely upon his lyric poetry such as Poems, 1924-1933, and Collected Poems 1917-1952, for which he won a second Pulitzer Prize in l953. In his poetic writing MacLeish reflects a certain indebtedness to Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Carl Sandburg. Yet the lasting value of his poetry rests upon a lyrical gift and a phrasing of rhetoric which is his alone. Instead of inhabiting a poet's ivory tower, MacLeish has shown interest in political movements, worked at different occupations, and investigated different professions. This involvement with the current of everyday life is reflected in the sensibility of his poetry, much of which is a satiric commentary on 20th-century life.