Archibald MacLeish (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Archibald MacLeish was born into an upper-middle-class family in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. He was the second son of Andrew MacLeish, president of a large Chicago department store, and Martha MacLeish, who before her marriage had been president of a college for young women. A fractious child, Archibald eventually was sent to an eastern prep school and then to Yale, where he won honors as a poet, scholar, and athlete. At Yale, he was chosen for the most prestigious of the secret societies, Skull and Bones. Determined to be a poet but knowing that he could not earn a living or support a family through poetry, he went to Harvard Law School and, after service in World War I, entered the practice of law in Boston. After a successful start on a career in law, he turned down a partnership in his firm and took his wife and child to Paris in 1923. Financial support from his father made it possible for him to spend the next few years writing poetry.
MacLeish at once became part of the expatriate American community in France, joining such other famous writers as Ernest Hemingway, with whom he had a long and sometimes difficult friendship, poet John Peale Bishop, and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. MacLeish and his wife, a soprano who became known for her skill with the music of such composers as Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky, were social people who soon became intimate with the famous writers, painters, and musicians who made Paris their center of activity in the...
(The entire section is 1932 words.)
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Archibald MacLeish (Magill Book Reviews)
Between 1925 and 1960, Archibald MacLeish in the opinion of some critics, at least was among the finest of modern American poets, ranking with Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Other critics argued, however, that his work owed a great deal to T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and that MacLeish seemed to change his opinions to suit the times. He did win three Pulitzer Prizes, a number of other awards, and many honorary degrees. His reputation as a poet, however, diminished in his later years and has not recovered since his death in 1982.
Scott Donaldson’s biography makes it clear that the most impressive fact about MacLeish’s career is that he was able to write as much significant poetry as he did while pursuing careers in such varied fields as the law, journalism (he wrote many articles for FORTUNE during its first eight years), library work (he was Librarian of Congress), public service (he was an assistant secretary of state during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency), and teaching—he spent more than a decade on the faculty at Harvard. In most of these endeavors he was signally successful.
MacLeish’s personal life was equally fortunate, at least on the surface. He was undoubtedly charming, and he and his wife moved in increasingly exalted social circles. But Donaldson shows, without undue emphasis on the dark side, that MacLeish’s marriage was troubled by his habit of pursuing women other than his wife, and that...
(The entire section is 405 words.)