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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