REFLECTIONS by Archibald MacLeish


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A series of long interviews made during his final years provided the poet a forum for setting straight the record of his life and work. Undoubtedly a valuable collection for scholars and students of MacLeish, the work is too rambling and various to sustain general interest. The interviewers, thoroughly objective, fade completely into the background, leaving MacLeish in the midst of monologues he cannot sustain, though he is obviously a lively speaker. They give him too little to bounce off as they follow the chronology of his career: Yale, Harvard Law, Paris, writing for Fortune, Librarian of Congress, assistant secretary of state, and onwards. MacLeish is wonderfully forthright and conversational, describing one critic as ""a stinker of the first order"" and summing up his time spent in government as not such a loss to his poetic career, since poetry is ""the art of making sense of the chaos of human experience, it's not a bad thing to see a lot of chaos."" He thought perhaps they shouldn't talk about individual poems, which ""either do their jobs as poems or they don't."" There is a fair amount of dissection nonetheless, and poems are helpfully provided where discussed. MacLeish dearly had reservations about the interview process, and those hesitancies occasionally emerge, implicitly challenging the method. He talks of the absolute necessity of rewriting, calling it ""again writing,"" and recalls the long preparation made for his televised dialogues with Mark Van Doren. Finally, asked how he might teach a seminar on himself, he digresses on another poet, Yeats. He notes that there has been no real biography: ""There are fact books, but there's no Yeats. Yeats is his own best biography! Nothing else counts."" These interviews get out the facts, but there's little MacLeish.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press