Critics concerned with the achievements of Archibald MacLeish unite in warning literary taxonomists against differentiating between his work as poet and as dramatist, for with only one exception, all his plays are composed in verse. Nevertheless, his poetic dramas form a group that can be considered separately from his poetry. Indeed, MacLeish’s output in both genres is considerable; of the three Pulitzer Prizes he received, two were awarded for his poems.
As early as 1917, MacLeish published his collection of verse Tower of Ivory, bringing together his undergraduate efforts from his years at Yale, detached poems derivative in both tone and technique of the powerful nineteenth century British Romantic lyric tradition. The volume is significant, however, for introducing MacLeish’s ubiquitous artistic themes: human beings’ relation to God and the reality of human existence. No more of his poetry appeared until 1924, when The Happy Marriage was published. Here, MacLeish appears more influenced by the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, and here he experimented with a number of more complex verse forms as well as with the difficulties inherent in paradox. Two other works of the 1920’s, The Pot of Earth and Nobodaddy, have been included variously in discussions of either MacLeish’s poetry or drama. In truth, they are embryonic verse plays, despite the author’s reference to them as poems. Because they prefigure and resemble his fully developed plays, they should be included with that genre.
After continued exclusive attention to poetry, especially during his sojourn in France, MacLeish received his first major recognition as a poet for Conquistador (1932), a powerful lyric and descriptive epic in free terza rima form. Chronicling the heroic exploits of...
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