A CONTINUING JOURNEY by Archibald MacLeish


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Archibald MacLeish is the poet of the good cause, of courage. He began as the monologist of doubt, ""The Hamlet of A. MacLeish,"" one of the many poems of the Twenties which expressed disillusionment, fragmentation. But he soon built on the pieces: in the Thirties he was the official bard of the New Deal, in the Forties our Assistant Secretary of State. So he knows power, he is the insider speaking of the public life, the glory and intricacy of service. As a poet his reputation among other poets has steadily declined, while his knack for transmuting the negative into the positive widens: ""Our cities are monstrous. Our suburbs are worse.... But what is also obvious, if you look closely and listen well, is the persistence of a human warmth, a human meaning that nothing has killed in almost 200 years."" This is the dominant note in these essays; the subjects may begin darkly--""National Purpose,"" Vietnam Oxford Mississippi--but the light of affirmation is waiting at the end, reaffirming freedom, Justice, the whole man, the Greek ideal. The rhetoric is moving, vigorous; if it often sounds like a politician's notion of the sublime, that is because the speaker is still thrilled by old-fashioned virtues. MacLeish is full of eulogy, exhortation; when he writes about Hemingway, Yeats, Frost, Mrs. Roosevelt, Elmer Davis he is paying tribute to the heroic and the life-giving, not the ambiguous and ""existential."" He is valuable for sentiment more than sense.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1967
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin