Sunday, January 20, 2019

Robert Vanderlan: Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art, and Ideas Inside Henry Luce's Media Empire

Vanderlan connects Milton and MacLeish, as we see in the following passages:
From a very young age MacLeish was already trying to sort out his conflicting feelings about the relationship between art and the rest of the world. During his time at Hotchkiss, he wrote an essay on John Milton. The great poet had been called away from his art to serve the cause of Cromwell, a decision MacLeish depicted in these terms: "His pen, which once had traced the sweetest poetry, was turned to work any scribbler could have done." Yet MacLeish maintained Milton had been correct in his choice, for his active engagement with the world prepared him for the greater poems to follow. "Now there gathered in his brain the threads of the great realities of life and death," he concluded, and it was this that enabled him to write Paradise Lost. Negotiating the line between art and a broader engagement with the world became and remained the animating question of his intellectual life. (page 32)

While compiling a sterling academic, social, and athletic record MacLeish still worried over how to balance his competing interests. At Yale, he found it hard to sustain the optimism contained in his earlier Milton essay. He felt it to be an inopportune place to write poetry. His athletic achievements were celebrated, his classroom success venerated, but his poetry (or maybe it was his odd combination of poet/athlete) fell somehow outside the narrowly prescribed bounds of Yale identity. (page 32)

Here he gave full voice to his determination to live for art and art alone. As he wrote in the famous last lines of "Ars poetica," "A poem should not mean, but be." Forsaking the example of Milton, MacLeish had joined Mason and the idealists. (page 34-35)

As school friend Culbreth Sudler remembered, Luce’s favorite poet was Milton, probably for the same reasons he appealed to the young Archibald MacLeish. Luce "said he wanted to be a poet," Sudler recalled, "He would have liked to be as good as Milton." His pursuit of poetry seems to have subsided only after he took Henry Seidel Canby's advanced writing course. The class included Stephen Vincent Benét and Thornton Wilder and was often visited by recent alumni, among them MacLeish, John Farrar, and Philip Barry. (page 68)

In "Public Speech and Private Speech in Poetry" MacLeish had invoked a poetic tradition running back to Milton and Dante. It was time to revive that tradition, he argued, "to regain that conception of poetry in which a poem, like a war or an edict, is an action on this earth." (page 133)
We now see that MacLeish returned again and again to Milton, comparing and contrasting Milton and himself, at times, siding with Milton, at other times, not siding with Milton.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home