Archibald MacLeish was born on May 7, 1892 in Glencoe, Illinois. With a hobby of reading classic literature, ‘Archie’ (the nickname his friends used to call him with) grew up on an estate bordering Lake Michigan. He majored in English from the Yale University and later took up Law at the Harvard Law School, where he would later serve as an editor of the ‘Harvard Law Review’.
“A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man.”
It was probably this notion that got him selected for the ‘Skull and Bones society’ (a secret society at Yale University). Archibald married a girl named Ada Hitchcock in 1916.
Then, came the war.
His studies were interrupted by the first world war, in which, he served as an ambulance driver. The ‘sharp kid Archie’ would later end up serving as a captain of artillery in the world war before graduating in 1919 and taking up a teaching position in Law at the government department at Harvard.
But the war had changed something deep inside of him. For him, it wasn’t quite over yet.
He would later end up quitting his teaching position to work as an editor for The New Republic and spent the next three years practicing Law before moving to Paris with his wife in 1923.
He got the chance of working with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. After 5 years in 1928, he returned to America.
“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.”
– Archibald MacLeish
He worked for the Fortune magazine from 1929 to 1938, writing voluminously on the international and the American scenes. His poems, writings, plays and essays all carried a debate with himself on the relation between art and society.
A believer in the fact that poetry should be ‘Public speech’ and only poetry can provide a unifying cultural vision for a country lacking a clear vision for human potential, Archibald was criticized, but his stage and radio plays (notably ‘Air raid’, ‘Panic’ and ‘The fall of the city’) reached a wide audience and was appreciated. Politically, he slowly developed a liberal humanism that made him admire Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He would write speeches for him in the near future.
He was nominated by President Roosevelt to be a librarian of the congress and because of his outstanding work; the American Libraries have called him the “One of the 100 most influential figures in librarianship during the 20th century.”
“What is more important in a library than anything else – is the fact that it exists.”
After a lot of arguing for freedom and communal solidarity through his work, he resigned from the library in 1944 and return to his private life soon after leading the US delegation at the organizational meeting of UNESCO.
He also assisted with the development of the new research and analysis branch of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA). And during World War 2, worked as the assistant director of the office of War information.
His notable poetic volumes are ‘America was promises’ (1939) and Actfive and other poems in 1948 (among countless other poems and writings). In 1953 he was elected president of the American academy of Arts and Letters.
On 20 April 1982, the author of 9 outstanding books and 4 great plays of all time, left the world – leaving behind one hell of a legacy.