Archibald MacLeish Poetry: American Poets Analysis
Public and private man, humanist, social critic, poet, Archibald MacLeish presents a rare wholeness of vision throughout his long career as a writer. This is not to say that his poetry remains static, that he wrote the same poem over and over again for more than fifty years. Indeed, his focus and style shift at two major points, dividing his corpus roughly into three stages: the 1920’s, the 1930’s, and the postwar period. As Waggoner points out, MacLeish was the first among a very few twentieth century poets who have recognized, grasped, and used in their work the discoveries of post-Newtonian physics. He refused to polarize poetry and science because to do so would be escapism. It is the poet’s role to express the mysteries of existence and experience. To oppose poetry to the contemporary understanding of nature and the universe, of origins and time and space, is to rob the poet of his subject and his mission.Throughout his works, MacLeish reiterates the value of the real, the concrete experience of the senses and feelings. Philosophically, he resembles the British empiricists of the eighteenth century, though without being reductive about experience. He distrusts abstractions, in the political arena no less than in the aesthetic. MacLeish is always in agreement with William Wordsworth’s concept of the poet, “a man speaking to men.” Unlike Eliot and Pound, he did not write for posterity nor for an elite group of preservers of western culture. He sought a...
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