Archibald MacLeish Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The son of upper-middle-class parents, Archibald MacLeish was born in 1892 in Glencoe, Illinois, where he attended grammar school. His father, a Scot, was a prosperous department-store executive whose wealth allowed his son the privilege of a preparatory-school education at Hotchkiss School before his entrance into Yale University, where he took a B.A. degree in 1915. His mother, his father’s third wife, was graduated from and taught at Vassar College and, before the birth of the poet, was president of Rockford College in Illinois. The young MacLeish was active in both literary and athletic groups at Yale and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa his junior year.

He enlisted for military duty in World War I, entering as a private in an army hospital unit and serving as a volunteer ambulance driver. After transfer to the artillery, he saw active duty at the front in France. He was discharged in 1918 with the rank of captain. In 1916, he married his childhood sweetheart, Ada Hitchcock, a singer. Four children were born to the couple, although one son died in childhood. After the war, he returned to Harvard Law School, which he had attended briefly before his military service. He taught government there for a year after he was graduated first in his class in 1919. Although avidly concerned with his developing poetic career, he practiced three years with a prestigious law firm in Boston.

By 1923, MacLeish had decided to give up the law, despite his election as a member of the firm. With his wife and children, he left for a five-year sojourn in France and Persia, and there he cultivated his artistic taste and talents by...

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Archibald MacLeish Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois, on May 7, 1892. Some aspects of his early life seem to have influenced his mature concept of the poet. His father was a Scots immigrant, that circumstance perhaps explaining MacLeish’s preoccupation with westward migration and his emphasis on America as a melting pot. More important, both his parents fostered a strong sense of moral responsibility in the young MacLeish. After attending the Hotchkiss School, MacLeish graduated from Yale with a B.A. degree in 1915, showing his propensity for being a well-rounded man by distinguishing himself in sports, academics, and the writing of poetry. He went on to Harvard Law School, marrying Ada Hitchcock in 1916, but his education was interrupted by his enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1917. MacLeish served in France, attaining the rank of captain. He returned to Harvard and received his law degree in 1919 and then taught for a year before joining a Boston law firm. After practicing law and trying to write poetry for three years, MacLeish quit his job and moved his wife and two children to Paris to devote his full efforts to poetry. During the five years of his expatriation, MacLeish associated with other American writers such as Pound, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, the latter becoming a close friend. MacLeish’s poems of this period show the influence of the poetics of Pound and Eliot and also of the spare style of Hemingway. His poems of this period tend also to reflect the introspective influence of the Decadent poets.

Unlike many other American expatriates of the 1920’s, MacLeish never intended to abandon his homeland. Having achieved recognition as a poet, in 1928, he returned to the United States, to a farm at Conway, Massachusetts. From that point on, his writings express a strong patriotic commitment. In the next year, MacLeish traveled on foot and mule...

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Archibald MacLeish Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207653-Macleish2.jpgArchibald MacLeish Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Archibald MacLeish (muh-KLEESH), more than any other twentieth century American writer, combined a literary career with a life of distinguished public service. He was born on May 7, 1892, in Glencoe, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. MacLeish was the son of Andrew MacLeish, a prosperous merchant, and Martha Hillard MacLeish, until her marriage a college faculty member and president. He was educated at Hotchkiss School, Yale University, and Harvard Law School. In 1916 he married Ada Hitchcock, a talented soprano. He enlisted as a private to serve in the American forces in France in 1917. Discharged as a captain of artillery, he returned to complete his law degree, to teach government at Harvard, and to practice law for three years in Boston. In 1923 he left a promising career in the law to move his family to Paris, where for five years he devoted himself to study, travel, and the writing of poetry.

The poems of MacLeish’s first period, from his 1917 book Tower of Ivory through the works of the following decade, recall the works of William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot, as well as the works of writers who had influenced them (the Imagist poets, the Metaphysical poets, the Symbolist poets, and James George Frazer). MacLeish’s carefully crafted poems embody familiar characteristics of poetry of the 1920’s: postwar bewilderment and despair, wistful regret for lost integrity, expression of the hurry of modern life, and confidence in the redemptive act of poetic creation. Among the most memorable works of this period are the long poems The Pot of Earth and The Hamlet of A. MacLeish and such short lyrics as “The Silent Slain,” “Ars Poetica,” “L’An trentiesme de mon age,” “The End of the World,” and “You, Andrew Marvell.”

In 1928 MacLeish returned to the United States to live on a farm in Conway, Massachusetts, which was his primary home for more than fifty years. The poem “American Letter” in New Found Land...

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Archibald MacLeish Biography (Drama for Students)

Archibald MacLeish Published by Gale Cengage

Archibald MacLeish was born in Glencoe, Illinois, on May 7, 1892. His father was a successful businessman, and his mother had been a college instructor; they saw to it that MacLeish was well educated. He attended public schools in Glencoe, and at the age of fifteen he was sent to a college preparatory academy in Connecticut. He began college studies at Yale in 1911.

Before college, MacLeish had been only an average student. At Yale, however, he began writing poetry and fiction for the literary magazine, excelled in water polo and football, earned high grades, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society. After graduation in 1915, he entered Harvard Law School, hoping that a career in law would give him a way to bring order out of chaos, just as poetry did. He married Ada Hitchcock in 1916; served briefly in the army; published his first book of poetry, Tower of Ivory, in 1917; and graduated first in his law school class in 1919. He taught government at Harvard for a short time and then worked as an attorney in Boston, but never lost his devotion to writing poetry.

In 1923, MacLeish moved with his family to Paris, determined to become a serious poet. During this period, many important American and European writers were living in Paris, and MacLeish became friendly with them, determined to learn from them. He taught himself Italian, so he could study the work of the fourteenth-century poet Dante Alighieri, and he studied the history of English poetry as well. These five years transformed his work, giving him a mature style that pleased both him and the critics. When he returned home, he was able to earn a living as a writer and to buy a small farm in Massachusetts, where he and Ada lived together until his death.

His will to bring order and harmony to human existence informed MacLeish's career for the next sixty years. He published more than fifty books of poetry, drama, and essays, but he also accepted positions as the Librarian of Congress, Assistant Secretary of State, and part of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations that established the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He believed that the poet's duty was to address contemporary social concerns and to ask important questions. His distress at the bombings of Dresden, London, and Hiroshima led him to wonder how humans could respond with hope to such suffering. He posed this question in the 1958 play, J.B., a retelling of the biblical story of Job, which brought MacLeish several awards and his largest financial success.

Over his career, MacLeish won three Pulitzer Prizes, the National Book Award, a Tony Award, an Academy Award for best screenplay, and nearly two dozen honorary degrees. In 1977, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died on April 20, 1982, just three weeks before a national symposium honoring his life and work.