MacLEISH, ARCHIBALD - American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

MacLEISH, ARCHIBALD (1892-1982). Poet Archibald MacLeish is best known as a winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and as the librarian of Congress from 1939 to 1944. While a student at Yale University, MacLeish began a long friendship with Britain’s sea-poet John Masefield. Following service in the army during World War I, MacLeish was a successful trial lawyer. In 1923 he quit the practice of law and moved his family to Paris, where he devoted his time to poetry. While in Paris he met and became friends with Ernest Hemingway,* F. Scott Fitzgerald,* and other authors and artists. His poetry often focused on aspects of nature, on exploration, or on nationalistic or patriotic themes.

Water as a metaphor played an important role throughout MacLeish’s career, starting with his first published work, “The Song of the Canoe” (1911). MacLeish wrote another early work using the sea, “Soul-Sight” (1917), while on a troopship steaming toward war service in France. The sea appeared in many of his poems of exploration or discovery: “Land’s End” (1927), “Pole Star” (1936), “Evacuation of Troy” (1948), “Ship’s Logs” (1962), and Conquistador (1932), as a few examples. MacLeish’s experiences while living on Anguilla for many summers highlighted his interest in islands and their inhabitants, as explored in “Hebrides” (1976), “Bahamas” (1962), and “Calypso’s Island” (1952). Two poems for Hemingway, “Voyage” (1933) and “Poet” (1954), also include sea imagery.

Peter H. McCracken