He liked to think of himself as a poet ofnAmerica and of liberalism. He liked tonthink that he represented both the Musenand Tom Paine. This led him to underestimatenboth Pound and EUot as criticsnof poetry and of society. Since their Ideasnwere so evidently UUberal and retrograden—^they acknowledged human depravity,ndespaired of human Institutions, deniednthe idea of progress, had no confidencenin socialism—^he came with fatal ease tonthe conclusion that those ideas were innsome way separable from their work. Henhimself willingly Infused poetry withnIdeology and believed that the manifestationnof sympathy for victims, of universalntolerance, or of confidence in thenNew Deal would make good poetry.nThe letters show little self-awareness innthis respect. They Indicate that henthought his social and political sympathiesnvalidated the poetry and that henwas deeply puzzled by critics and journalistsnwho responded badly. A samplenwill do, of the kind of writing that lednEdmund Wilson to express lifelong contemptnfor MacLeish’s work In the coursenof reviewing the achievement of FaulknernMacLeish vsrote the following lines,nwhich Imply the connection ofSanctuarynto the life and times of Joseph McCarthy:nThe impotent that could not—nThat leared with letching eye,nThey’ve learned to rape the countrynWith a corn-cob and a lie.nThis shows that MacLeish could learnnfrom Michael Gold—or perhaps fromnPete Seeger—^but it is neither thoughtnnor poetry.nMacLeish simply could not get awaynfrom the belief that he was a Bard—thenexamples of Whitman and of Carl Sandburgnwere too much for him. In hisnletters—as in his poems and essays—nMacLeish tended to preach. He wasnaware of that, as he indicates in a 1949nletter to Henry Luce. The subject is Timenand its Interpretations of American responsibilitynand freedom during the ColdnWar. MacLeish states: “More and morenas these evil times move toward theirnl O ^ ^ B ^ M ^ ^ MnChronicles of Culturenutterance—whatever It Is to be—^I findnthe spirit and the tongues of the Ministersnof the Kirk and Congregational preachers,nmy ancestors, moving in me.” Heneven invokes possibly the last man onnearth to share his bellefe, John Knox. Itnseems that Fitzgerald was quite accuratenin perceiving that MacLeish, amongnothers, had something In him of then”spoiled priest.”nMacLeish regularly makes confusednstatements about the duty of a poet in antime of troubles. There are attacks onnPound and Eliot for their despondentnattitude about modem culture; on theirnacademic followers for being insufficientlynaffirmative; on “the newspaperncritics” who could not take his broadcastnfor the Roosevelt Administrationnseriously. Perhaps the definitive wordnon MacLeish’s sense of cultural politicsnhas already been written, and is to benfound in another collection of letters.nEdmund Wilson wrote to MaxwellnGelsmar in 1942:nI think, too, that you tend perhaps tonoverestimate the artistic and intellectualnimportance of the social-consciousnessnenthusiasm that mountednso rapidly during the thirties. Aren’tnMacLeish and Sherwood, T^’hom youncite as well as most of the othernpeople that you mention on page 288n[of Writers in Crisis], as well as Steinbeck,nperhaps, himself, really secondandnthird-rate writers? May it not possiblynturn out to be true that they representnmerely the beginning of somenawfiil collectivist cant which ^vill turnninto official propaganda for a post-warnstate-socialist bureaucracy? WithnMacLeish and Sherwood at the WhitenHouse as they are nam, the w^holenthing makes me rather uneasy. It maynbe necessary for a subsequent set ofnwriters to lead an attack on phony collectivismnin the interests of the Americannindividualistic tradition.nIn a letter to Uona Karmel in 1952nMacLeish again invoked his politicalnpriesthood: “It is truly to testify we arenhere—^to bear witness—^those of us whonare artists.” There are some qualifica­nnntions to bear in mind: that MacLeish, asnWilson observed, confused art with polltics,nand that he attached reverential, indeednreligious feelings to secular liberalism.nIt is of great interest that he can dismissnquite a lot of poetry because It isnnot liberal-minded: because, like thenwork of Eliot, it sees evil in human naturenand in history. To put that point of viewnin poetry is for MacLeish unacceptable:nit remains for verse to celebrate “love”nand “gayety.” This is excruciatingly sentimental.nIt tends also to make poetry sociallyntherapeutic, instrumental. ButnMacLeish ought to speak for himself onnhis interpretation of the right stuff:nWe can only truly see, even the best ofnus, even the greatest, ^vhat we love.nThose whose lives disgust them maynmake brilliant play of their hate, andntouching pathos of their despair, butnthey are shrunken witnesses. Eliot, fornall his brilliance, is not a great poet fornthis reason. Yeats, for the same reason,nis. And this is Shakespeare’s reason.nAnd Keats’. And Dante’s for all hisncruel darkness—^for the tart, sweetnsavor of life is there even in thosensupurating pools of hatred—^thosenwho are hateflil are those ^vho havensinned against life, call it by whatnname you will.nThis is so awfiil that elucidation hesitates.nSuch a misreading of The DivinenComedy has probably not occurrednsince God died and Lenin was bom. Thensinners in Dante, unfortunately, arenthose who have loved life too much.nThey are Paolo and Francesca, and thosenothers who loved “love” and “gayety”ntoo much. It is certainly of interest thatnbrilliance and greatness are opposed innthis passage, as if only the right ideasncould make poetry worthwhile. Not, Inthink, an Improvement on Arnold.n1 he letters seem to distill MacLeish’sncultural politics. Now and then he risesnabove party, but he sinks in his view ofnmankind. MacLeish may have been tonpoetry as Eleanor Roosevelt was to goverrunent:nhe did a discernible amount ofn