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About this poet

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois, on May 7, 1892. First educated at Hotchkiss School, MacLeish later studied at Yale and Harvard Law School, where he was first in his class. Although he focused his studies on law, he also began writing poetry during this time. In 1916 he married Ada Hitchcock.

At the onset of World War I, MacLeish volunteered as an ambulance driver, and later became a captain of field artillery. Upon returning home, he worked in Boston as a lawyer but found that the position distracted him from his poetry. He resigned in 1923, on the day that he was promoted to partner in the firm. MacLeish then moved his family to France and began to focus on writing. There he was to befriend fellow writers such as Kay Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound. During the next four years he published four books of poetry, including The Happy Marriage and Other Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1924) and The Pot of Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 1925). In 1928, MacLeish returned to America, where he began research for his epic poem Conquistador by travelling the steps and mule-ride of Cortez's army through Mexico. MacLeish won the Pulitzer Prize for his efforts in 1932.

From 1930 to 1938, MacLeish worked as an editor at Fortune magazine. During that period, he wrote two radio dramas to increase patriotism and warn Americans against fascism. MacLeish also displayed increasing passion for this cause in his poems and articles. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded him to accept an appointment as Librarian of Congress, a position he kept for five years. MacLeish thoroughly reorganized the Library's administrative offices and established the Library's series of poetry readings. At the same time, MacLeish served as director of the War Department's Office of Facts and Figures and assistant director of the Office of War Information, specializing in propaganda. In 1944, he was appointed assistant Secretary of State for cultural affairs. After World War II, MacLeish became the first American member of the governing body of UNESCO, and chaired the first UNESCO conference in Paris.

In 1949, Archibald Macleish retired from his political activism to become Harvard's Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position he held until 1962. From 1963 to 1967, he was Simpson Lecturer at Amherst College. Macleish continued to write poetry, criticism, and stage- and screenplays, to great acclaim. His Collected Poems, 1917-1952 (Houghton Mifflin,1952), won him a second Pulitzer Prize, as well as the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize. J.B. (Houghton Mifflin, 1958), a verse play based on the book of Job, earned him a third Pulitzer, this time for drama. And in 1965 he received an Academy Award for his work on the screenplay of The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. Archibald MacLeish died in April 1982 in Boston, Massachusetts.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

New and Collected Poems, 1917-1976 (Houghton Mifflin,1976)
The Human Season, Selected Poems 1926-1972 (Houghton Mifflin, 1972)
"The Wild Old Wicked Man" and Other Poems (W. H. Allen, 1968)
The Collected Poems of Archibald MacLeish (Houghton Mifflin, 1962)
Songs for Eve (Houghton Mifflin, 1954)
Collected Poems, 1917-1952 (Houghton Mifflin, 1952)
Actfive and Other Poems (Random House, 1948)
Poems, 1924-1933 (Houghton Mifflin, 1935)
Elpenor (1933)
Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City (The John Day Company, 1933)
Conquistador (Houghton Mifflin, 1932)
New found land, fourteen poems (The Black sun press, 1930)
Einstein (Black Sun Press, 1929)
Streets in the Moon (Houghton Mifflin, 1928)
The Hamlet of A. Macleish (Houghton Mifflin, 1928)
The Pot of Earth (Houghton Mifflin, 1925)
The Happy Marriage and Other Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1924)
Tower of Ivory (Yale University Press, 1917)
Class Poem (Yale University Press, 1915)
Songs for a Summer's Day (Yale University Press, 1915)

Prose

Letters of Archibald MacLeish, 1907-1982 (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)
Riders on the Earth: Essays & Recollections (Houghton Mifflin, 1978)
Champion of a Cause: Essays and Addresses on Librarianship (American Library Association, 1971)
A Continuing Journey (Houghton Mifflin, 1968)
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story (Houghton Mifflin, 1965)
The Dialogues of Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren (Dutton, 1964)
Poetry and Experience (Riverside Press, 1961)
Art Education and the Creative Process (Museum of Modern Art, 1954)
Freedom Is the Right to Choose (Beacon Press, 1951)
Poetry and Opinion: the Pisan Cantos of Ezra Pound (University of Illinois Press, 1950)
A Time to Act: Selected Addresses (Houghton Mifflin, 1943)
American Opinion and the War: the Rede Lecture (1942)
A Time to Speak: The Selected Prose of Archibald MacLeish (Houghton Mifflin, 1941)
The American Cause (Sloan and Pearce, 1941)
The Irresponsibles: A Declaration (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1940)
America Was Promises (Duell, Sloan & Pearce,1939)
Jews in America (Random House, 1936)
Public Speech (Farrar & Rinehart, 1936)

Drama

Six Plays (Houghton Mifflin, 1980)
The Great American Fourth of July Parade (International Poetry Forum, 1975)
Scratch (Houghton Mifflin, 1971)
The Wild Old Wicked Man (Houghton Mifflin, 1968)
An Evening's Journey to Conway Massachusetts (Houghton Mifflin, 1967)
Herakles: A Play in Verse (Houghton Mifflin, 1967)
Three Short Plays: The secret of freedom. Air raid. The fall of the city. (Dramatists Play Service, 1961)
J.B. (Houghton Mifflin, 1958)
This Music Crept By Me on the Waters (Harvard University Press, 1953)
The Trojan Horse (Houghton Mifflin, 1952)
The American Story: Ten Broadcasts (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1944)
Colloquy for the States (1943)
Air Raid (Harcourt, Brace and company, 1938)
The Land of the Free (Harcourt, Brace and company, 1938)
The Fall of the City (Farrar & Rinehart, 1937)
Panic ( Houghton Mifflin Company, 1935)
Union Pacific (ballet) (1934)
Nobodaddy: a play (Dunster House, 1926)

Ars Poetica

Archibald MacLeish, 1892 - 1982
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

                 *

A poem should be motionless in time 
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves, 
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time 
As the moon climbs.

                  *

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.

Copyright © by the Estate of Archibald MacLeish and reprinted by permission of the Estate.

Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois, on May 7, 1892.

by this poet

poem

There is no dusk to be,
   There is no dawn that was,
Only there's now, and now,
   And the wind in the grass.

Days I remember of
   Now in my heart, are now;
Days that I dream will bloom
   White peach bough.

Dying shall never be
   Now in the windy grass;

poem
Like moon-dark, like brown water you escape,
O laughing mouth, O sweet uplifted lips.
Within the peering brain old ghosts take shape;
You flame and wither as the white foam slips
Back from the broken wave: sometimes a start,
A gesture of the hands, a way you own
Of bending that smooth head above your heart,—
poem
Since my Beloved chambered me
   To beat within her breast,
And took my soul to light a shrine
   Her soul had decked and dressed,
And caught my songs about her throat,—
   Dissected, known, confessed,
I dwell within her charity
   A half-unwelcome guest.