Archibald MacLeish: An American Life

Overview

Some of the greatest poets--Victor Hugo, Paul Claudel, George Seferis, Pablo Neruda, St.-John Perse--have also been public figures, but in the history of twentieth-century American poetry, Archibald MacLeish stands alone. Born on May 7, 1892, in Glencoe, Illinois, to the craggy but prosperous president of Carson Pirie Scott and an idealistic mother who had been a college president, Archibald MacLeish grew up to become not only a highly regarded poet, even eventually the unofficial poet laureate of his time, but ...
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Overview

Some of the greatest poets--Victor Hugo, Paul Claudel, George Seferis, Pablo Neruda, St.-John Perse--have also been public figures, but in the history of twentieth-century American poetry, Archibald MacLeish stands alone. Born on May 7, 1892, in Glencoe, Illinois, to the craggy but prosperous president of Carson Pirie Scott and an idealistic mother who had been a college president, Archibald MacLeish grew up to become not only a highly regarded poet, even eventually the unofficial poet laureate of his time, but one of our most dedicated and effective public servants. Educated at Hotchkiss (which he hated), Yale (football, Skull and Bones), and Harvard Law School, he abandoned a promising law practice in Boston on the very day he was to be offered a partnership, to take his wife, a gifted singer, and their young children to Paris and write poetry full-time. Much of MacLeish's finest work ("Ars poetica," "The End of the World," "You, Andrew Marvell") was written in France, where he lived out the 1920s in the company of Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. But as the Great Depression loomed, MacLeish came home, bought a farm in Conway, Massachusetts, and looked for gainful employment. He became one of the early and foremost editors of Fortune, for which he wrote copiously and brilliantly for a decade, often contributing as much as a quarter of each issue. During this time his poetry became more public ("Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller's City") and his political opinions more liberal, controversial, and beleaguered. For a year he served as the first curator of Harvard's Nieman fellowships, but in 1939 Franklin Roosevelt summoned him to be librarian of Congress. In that position he entirely reorganized the Library of Congress, continuing this work even while serving in the wartime Office of Facts and Figures and later as assistant secretary of state. In 1945, with his friend Adlai Stevenson, he worked to establish the United Nations a
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Editorial Reviews

Herbert Mitgang
There's so much gold about life and letters...that the book almost doesn't need mining for nuggets. —The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Appointed MacLeish's biographer by the MacLeish estate, Donaldson ( John Cheever ) in collaboration with Winnick ( Letters of Archibald MacLeish, 1907 - 1982 ) has produced a sympathetic and fully realized treatment of the writer's life and work. MacLeish (1892-1982) was born into wealth but rejected a law career for poetry, supporting his family by working as a journalist for Fortune magazine. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his poems (1932, 1953) and once for his play J.B. (1959). Donaldson details his subject's friendships with Hemingway, Dean Acheson and Dos Passos, acknowledging MacLeish's literary achievements and his outstanding stint as FDR's Librarian of Congress. The book credits him with acting against fascism and McCarthyism but also reveals his snobbishness, extra-marital affairs and failures as a father. Readable and well-researched, this is a solid scholarly biography of a major literary figure. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
Library Journal
This exhaustive, sympathetic biography helps explain why MacLeish, one of the best-known and respected American poets in the 1930s to the 1950s, is all but forgotten today. Raised to value a life of selfless public service, he early subordinated a pursuit of private poetry to a career in the law, then at the fledgling Fortune magazine. In the Depression, at the request of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom he revered, he became Librarian of Congress and, in the 1950s, Boylston Professor of English at Harvard--all the while carped at by critics both Left and Right, who accused him of ``selling out.'' This fine book should help resurrect MacLeish, not as a poet liberal samplings of his work suggest he remains too public and hortatory for our tastes, but as a principled and courageous American public servant. For an interview with Donaldson, see Behind The Book, p. 92.--Ed.-- Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395493267
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/13/1992
  • Pages: 576

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Beginnings 1
2 Growing Up 14
3 Prep School 30
4 Big Man on Campus 51
5 Ada and the Muses 73
6 The Great War 85
7 A. MacLeish, Esquire 100
8 Fever of Greatness 125
9 Shadow of the Night 151
10 New Found Land 180
11 City of Glass 197
12 Public Poet I 220
13 Middle of the Journey 247
14 Public Poet II 262
15 Mr. M. Goes to Washington 290
16 Brush of the Comet 306
17 The Drums of War 329
18 Propagandist for Democracy 348
19 Making the Peace 366
20 A New Life 396
21 The View from Sixty 422
22 Means of Escape 440
23 Poet Laureate 467
24 Quarrels with the World 492
25 Last Lines 512
Acknowledgments 527
Notes 532
Bibliography 593
Index 601
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