Archibald MacLeish 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...

(The entire section is 670 words.)


(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...

(The entire section is 775 words.)