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Archibald MacLeish collection

Call Number: YCAL MSS 38

Scope and Contents

The Archibald MacLeish Collection consists of writings, correspondence, a scrapbook, and a handful of personal papers documenting aspects of the literary career of the Pulitizer Prize winning poet and dramatist. The papers span the dates 1914-82.

The collection is arranged in three series; Writings, Correspondence, and Personal Papers, plus one box of Oversize material.

Series I, Writings (Boxes 1-17), is divided into the subseries Books, Poetry, and Articles and Essays. Books, the largest subseries, is housed in Boxes 1-15 and is subdivided into sections for Poetry, Plays, and Prose, each alphabetically arranged by title.

Manuscript drafts exist for seven of the ten works of poetry found in the collection and documentation is generally better for later works than for earlier ones. The collection contains just reviews for The Pot of Earth (1925), Nobodaddy (1926), and Poems: 1924-33 (1933). Holograph and typescript drafts of Conquistador (1932), an epic on the Spanish conquest of Mexico for which MacLeish won his first Pulitzer Prize, are found in the papers, together with a typescript of Collected Poems, 1917-1952 (1952), the work that earned the author his second Pulitizer Prize. Complete drafts also exist for Public Speech (1936), America Was Promises (1939), Songs for Eve (1954), and The Human Season: Selected Poems 1926-1972 (1972). Information is most complete for "The Wild Old Wicked Man" & Other Poems (1968), for which the collection contains two notebooks, two typescript drafts, and three sets of galley proofs.

A similar pattern holds in the Plays section of Series I. The documentation for Panic (1935), The Fall of the City (1937), and Air Raid (1938) is sparse, while that for MacLeish's later plays is more complete. The collection contains single drafts for The Trojan Horse (1952) and Scratch (1971) and multiple drafts for This Music Crept by Me Upon the Waters (1953), J.B. (1958), The American Bell (1962), and Herakles (1967). The American Bell, the author's celebration of American independence, was first performed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1962. For additional information on the historical background of the production, see the Julian P. Boyd correspondence, Box 18, folders 330-32. J.B., a verse drama based on the Book of Job, earned MacLeish his third Pulitizer Prize. Some four boxes of early drafts, drafts of the Houghton Mifflin edition of the play, of the original Yale production, of the Broadway production directed by Elia Kazan, and of subsequent productions are included in the collection, together with articles about the play, photographs of the Yale and British Guiana productions, reviews, and royalty statements.

Archibald MacLeish's prose books are found in Boxes 10-15. The collection contains a review of A Time to Speak (1941) and draft fragments for The American Cause (1941). Several drafts of Poetry and Experience (1960), a study of poetry; The Eleanor Roosevelt Story (1965), a television script; and A Continuing Journey (1968, a collection of previously published essays), are found in the series.

The Poetry section of Series I (Box 16) holds a notebook, 3 folders of unidentified poems, and 69 folders of identified poems. Twenty-two were included in "The Wild Old Wicked Man" & Other Poems and 5 in Songs for Eve. Some 34 poems exist only in holograph, another 15 only in typescript, 5 only in their published forms, 14 in multiple formats, and 1 in calligraphic form. Published versions for a total of 6 poems are included: "The Black Day: To the Memory of Lawrence Duggen," "Cartoon," "For Amy Lowell," "In my Thirtieth Year," "Poem for a Festival of Art at the Boston Public Gardens," and "What Riddle Asked the Sphinx." About two-thirds of the poems have been corrected by the author and 21 are found in multiple versions, including "Dr. Sigmund Freud Discovers the Sea Shell," "Hotel Breakfast," and "The Ship in the Tomb." Among other poems of note are discarded drafts of "The Wisconsin-Nevada Axis," about red-baiting Senators McCarthy and McCarran, and "The Young Dead Soldiers," a tribute to Richard H. Myers, the deceased son of friends.

Box 17 houses a variety of articles, essays, speeches, and similar material. Of particular note are MacLeish's introduction to Permit Me Voyage by James Agee, papers on the prologue to J.B., statements on the death of Ernest Hemingway, and two speeches given at Yale alumni dinners.

Series II, Correspondence (Boxes 18-19), contains alphabetically arranged letters, most written to MacLeish, from a variety of correspondents. The majority concern early productions of J.B., whose world premiere was held at Yale on April 22, 1958.

The J.B. material includes correspondence concerning publication of the play, revisions of the verse drama prior to its first productions, early production efforts, overseas productions, translations of the play into German and Italian, and fan mail. Information about commercial publication of J.B., production contracts, and royalties is found in the Houghton Mifflin Company and William Morris Agency correspondence. Several individuals, including John Ciardi, F. Curtis Canfield, Elia Kazan, and Laurier Lister offered comments about the play and made suggestions for text changes. The eminent critic John Ciardi was particularly enthusiastic. In a September 10, 1957, letter containing suggestions for changes in the text, he praises the play's magnificence and states that he is ready "to swear in advance to anything you do, to go pilgrim to your shrine, and to pledge my sword against the forces of darkness." His review of the published version of the play in the March 8, 1958 issue of the Saturday Review (Box 9, folder 110), titled "The Birth of a Classic," praises J.B. as "great poetry, great drama, and...great stagecraft."

The abortive attempt by the Phoenix Theatre to produce the play is discussed in a series of 1957 letters of T. Edward Hambleton and Herman Shumlin. As early as August 1956, F. Curtis Canfield, dean of the Yale University School of Drama, asked MacLeish about the possibility of staging the play at Yale and, with the collapse of the Phoenix Theatre effort in December 1957, he received permission to produce it at the University. In several 1958 letters Canfield discussed possible revisions in the text and his hope to produce the play on Broadway. Barely one week after its world premiere he wrote MacLeish to thank him, because in "one stroke, by giving us permission to do J.B. here, you did more for the Drama School than anyone has done for it in many a year." The Broadway production of J.B. is discussed in the correspondence of Alfred De Liagre, producer of the play, and Elia Kazan. Their letters contain numerous comments on the play's text and its casting.

In the summer of 1957 Eva Hesse of Munich was given permission to translate J.B. into German and was appointed Houghton Mifflin's agent for the German rights to the play. Her letters contain reports on her translating progress, plans for the first German production of "Spiel um Job" at the 1958 Salzburg Festival, and news of subsequent productions. The Salzburg production, directed by Professor O. E. Schuh of Berlin's Theater am Kurfürstendamm, displeased Hesse and Dr. Peter Suhrkamp of Suhrkamp Verlag, MacLeish's German publisher. In an August 16, 1958 letter, she calls the production dishonest, provincial, and stupid, while Suhrkamp, writing a week later, states that Schuh made unilateral changes in the translation and incorrectly treated "Spiel um Job" as a religious mystery play. Letters of Sergio Morando, Mrs. Paolo Ojetti, Iris Origo, and Luigi Squarzini discuss the translation of J.B. into Italian and its 1958 production at San Miniato. Laurier Lister's and Margery Vosper's correspondence concerns the 1961 London production, one that both De Liagre and Aubrey Blackburn (Box 19, folder 433) considered disappointing and lacking in vitality.

Eva Hesse translated Ezra Pound's "Women of Trachis" into German, and a dozen letters written between August 1957 and January 1963 contain comments on him. The subject of the Julian P. Boyd correspondence is the 1962 son et lumière production of "The American Bell." Boyd's letters contain comments on the historical accuracy of the manuscript, a discussion of events leading to independence, and a typescript of an article intended for publication in the Saturday Evening Post, "There was a Tumult in the City: But did the Liberty Bell Ring that Day?" Lawrence Mason, assistant professor of English at Yale, 1916-20, discusses publication plans for Tower of Ivory (1917), MacLeish's first poetry collection for which Mason wrote the introduction. He also writes in a long July 19-24, 1918 letter of the ringing of the bells in New Haven at news of "Foch's great Counter Offensive," of his conviction that Germany must be totally defeated, and of his despair about the future of the country after the war. "You are lucky to be out of this barren country: 'no gentleman's land' is deadlier than 'no man's land'." Several 1937-38 letters between MacLeish and Arthur Mizener concern an exhibition of MacLeish's books at Yale and Mizener's work on a MacLeish bibliography.

The collection also contains a small quantity of letters, most written during the 1920s and early 1930s, by well-known literary figures that include comments on MacLeish's poetry. Correspondents include John Peale Bishop, T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Galantière, Wyndham Lewis, Amy Lowell, John Masefield, Adrienne Monnier, Marianne Moore, and Carl Sandburg. John Peale Bishop, for example, praises New Found Land and Conquistador, and Louis Galantière discusses The Hamlet of A. MacLeish. Amy Lowell in a six-page February 1924 letter discusses poetry and offers her views of modernist poets T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and E. E. Cummings. She describes Moore as "a nice girl, but, wherever she was born, she is the thin-lipped, inhibited New England spinster." Lowell concedes that Moore may have some good poetry in her, "she is very shrewd when you talk to her - but her efforts to make herself virile and strong, to be, in fact, something she is not, have killed her." Lowell states that she is saying all this "largely because I think I discern in you a dangerous tendency to over-respond to theories."

Other correspondents of note include Maxwell Anderson, Grace Allen Bangs, Henry R. Luce, Ben Shawn, and Henry P. Van Dusen.

The papers contain relatively few letters written by Archibald MacLeish, most of which are carbons. Scattered copies of MacLeish's letters concerning J.B. are found in the correspondence of Alfred De Liagre, T. Edward Hambleton, Houghton Mifflin Company, Elia Kazan, Sergio Morando, Luigi Squarzini, and Margery Vosper. The largest group of original MacLeish letters were written to Elizabeth Choate, daughter of Charles Francis Choate, Jr. of Choate, Hall and Stewart. The letters discuss poetry and sometimes include samples of his work.

Series III, Personal Papers (Boxes 20-21), holds a variety of papers about MacLeish, including an identity card and an obituary. It also includes a report on the death of Kenneth MacLeish, who was shot down over Schoore, Belgium on October 14, 1918, with snapshots of the site; A Catalog of the First Editions of Archibald MacLeish by Arthur Mizener; and a scrapbook, restricted until 1991, of letters and verses by MacLeish collected by Yale classmate Francis Hyde Bangs.

Oversize papers (Box 22) holds proofs of several MacLeish writings, several articles about J.B., and a typescript of The Eleanor Roosevelt Story.


  • 1914-1982 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in boxes 23-24 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Archibald MacLeish Collection is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was donated to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library by MacLeish between 1938 and 1976. The remaining material, which came to the library in small quantities from 1935 to 1976, has been placed in folders annotated with specific provenance information.


12.5 Linear Feet (24 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection contains writings, correspondence, a handful of personal papers, and a songbook. The bulk of the material consists of drafts of such works as Songs for Eve (1954), The Wild Old Wicked Men & Other Poems (1968), The American Bell (1962), Herakles (1967), J. B. , and A Continuing Journey (1968).


Archibald MacLeish, poet, playwright, and government official, was born on May 7, 1892, in Glencoe, Illinois. He graduated from Yale in 1915, entered Harvard Law School, and married Ada Hitchcock in 1916. After the United States entered World War I, he enlisted as a private in the army, served in the artillery in France, and was discharged with the rank of captain. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1919 and the next year joined the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall, and Stewart. In 1923 the MacLeish family moved to Paris, where they remained for five years. After returning to the United States, he travelled to Mexico to follow the route of Cortez's army in preparation for writing Conquistador.

During the 1930s MacLeish was an editor of Fortune magazine. He served as Librarian of Congress, 1939-44, Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Affairs, 1944-45, and Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at Harvard University, 1949-62. MacLeish's poetry and dramatic writings earned him Pulitizer Prizes in 1932, 1952, and 1959, the Bollingen Prize and the National Book Award for poetry in 1953, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the National Medal for Literature in 1978. Archibald MacLeish died in Boston on April 20, 1982.

His major works of poetry include Tower of Ivory (1917), The Pot of Earth (1925), The Hamlet of A. MacLeish (1928), New Found Land (1930), Conquistador (1932), America Was Promises (1939), Collected Poems, 1917-1952 (1952), and Songs for Eve (1954). MacLeish also wrote several plays, some of the most important being Panic (1935), The Fall of the City (1937), Air Raid (1938), J.B. (1958), Herakles (1967), and Scratch (1971). Counted among his works of prose are A Time to Speak (1941), The American Story (1944), Poetry and Experience, (1960), and A Continuing Journey (1968).

Guide to the Archibald Macleish Collection
Under Revision
by Bruce P. Stark
August 1989
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.