American Writers, Volume III by Leonard Unger

By Leonard Unger

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Calling themselves frescoes and claiming a pictorial function, they fail to cover, as it were, the wall. They say almost nothing about what Americans do, or why. Given pictorial form, they would pose as great an irrelevance—to Mr. Rockefeller's or anyone's city—as Diego Rivera with his intrusive Lenin. MacLeish's next volume, Poems 1924-1933, not only reprinted the best of his work up to 1933 but also arranged it in nonchronological order. This order could form the subject of a separate study: it seems to indicate many of the relations which MacLeish intended to hold in balance between separate poems.

MacLeish in the 1920's increasingly took pains with the formal structure of his poetry. Only through form could the swelling rhetoric be channeled. After the 1924 volume, the sonnet was neglected for a while, but it was not discarded even in Streets in the Moon (1926), where free verse of a highly regulated type alternates with blank verse and stanzaic patterns. Blank verse, with a few rhyming lyric passages, was used also for his symbolistic poem The Pot of Earth (1925) and his closet drama Nobodaddy (1926).

It ends with a series of ten poems in various lyric forms, assembled under the general title "The Woman on the Stair"; this, more than anything else in the volume, harks back to an earlier period. One thinks especially of "The Happy Marriage," 16 I AMERICAN which also is a series of this type: "The Woman on the Stair," too, is made up of meditative descriptions which chart an emotional relationship. Why should this sequence have been inserted in a book whose very title points to MacLeish's new preoccupation with what poetry can deliver to the public concerning themselves?

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