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Archibald Macleish Biography

(1892–1982), The Pot of Earth, Streets in the Moon, The Hamlet of A. MacLeish, Nobodaddy

American poet and dramatist, born in Glencoe, Illinois, educated at Harvard; he practised as a lawyer until 1923, when he moved to Paris. He remained there for five years, associating with members of the ‘Lost Generation’ of American expatriate authors and developing innovative verse techniques under the influence of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. The Pot of Earth (1925), Streets in the Moon (1926), and The Hamlet of A. MacLeish (1928), his principal collections of the period, form extended philosophical investigations of psychological and cultural themes. Nobodaddy (1926), the first of his verse-dramas, is an idiosyncratic treatment of fundamental metaphysical questions. Following his return to the USA, the concern with American nationhood in New Found Land (1930) set the pattern for much of his subsequent verse, which often emphasizes the disparity between America's democratic ideals and social actualities. The violent contrasts of European and Aztec orders in the long narrative poem Conquistador (1932) are emblematic of the cultural divisions accentuated by the Depression. The verse-dramas Panic (1935), The Fall of the City (1937), and Air Raid (1938) are imaginatively urgent responses to contemporary events in America and Europe. From 1939 to 1949, when he became Boylston Professor at Harvard, MacLeish held numerous important administrative posts, notably as Librarian of Congress and Assistant Secretary of State. Notable among his later collections of poetry are Actfive (1948), which evokes his sense of the challenge of the post-war years, and Songs for Eve (1954), in which a more personal and wide-ranging lyricism is evident. New and Collected Poems, 1917–1982 appeared in 1985. His reaction to the anti-communist hysteria of the early 1950s took the form of the radio broadcast in 1952 of The Trojan Horse, a verse-drama collected with his earlier works in the genre in Six Plays (1980). His renewed interest in dramatic forms also resulted in J. B. (1958), a modernized version of the Book of Job which was produced on Broadway. The best known of his critical works is Poetry and Experience (1960), which centres on his conceptions of the social functions of poetry. The essays and memoirs of A Continuing Journey (1968) and Riders on the Earth (1978) incorporate much autobiographical material.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Earl Lovelace Biography to Madmen and Specialists