Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
...was not only a writer of poetry, but also a teacher, government official,
and lawyer. Born in Glencoe, Illinois, MacLeish inherited his love for language from his father who he said was
"a rigorous man of beautiful speech" and his teaching abilities from his mother who had taught at Vassar
College. He received his B.A. from Hotchkiss School, at Yale, and later attended Harvard Law School. MacLeish volunteered
during World War I as an ambulance driver and later as a captain of field artillery. He was inspired by his brother's
death in the war to write "Memorial Rain," a poem that commemorated the loss of life. After the war,
MacLeish moved to Boston where he practiced law for a short period, before moving again, this time to France. While
in France, he took part in the modernist revolution and, in a span of four years between 1924 and 1928, published
four books of poetry. MacLeish's Conquistador, in which he presented the story of Cortez's conquering army told
through the eyes of one of the conquistadors, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. When America was on the brink of
a second World War, MacLeish became very concerned with politics and the threat of Fascism. He wrote a pamphlet,
The Irresponsibles, which aroused controversy, for in it he accused his fellow writers of weakening their readers'
morals and leaving them open to the influence of Fascism. During Roosevelt's presidency, MacLeish was appointed
to the position of Librarian of Congress and in 1941 was made the Director of the Office of Facts and Figures.
He went on to hold the office of Assistant Secretary of State between 1944-1945. From 1949-1962, MacLeish served
as Boylston Professor of English Rhetoric at Harvard and continued to work on both his poetry and his dramas.
And learn O voyager to walk
The roll of earth, the pitch and fall
That swings across these trees those stars:
That swings the sunlight up the wall.
And learn upon these narrow beds
To sleep in spite of sea, in spite
Of sound the rushing planet makes:
And learn to sleep against this ground.