Archibald MacLeish

American poet and Librarian of Congress

Archibald MacLeish (May 7, 1892April 20, 1982) was an American poet, writer and the Librarian of Congress. He is associated with the modernist school of poetry. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize three times.

What is more important in a library than anything else — is the fact that it exists.


  • Races didn't bother the Americans. They were something a lot better than any race. They were a People. They were the first self-constituted, self-declared, self-created People in the history of the world. And their manners were their own business. And so were their politics. And so, but ten times so, were their souls.
    • "The American Cause", address delivered at Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts (November 20, 1940); reported in MacLeish, A Time to Act; Selected Addresses (1943), p. 115
  • The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself.
    • "In Praise of Dissent", New York Times (16 December 1956)
  • It is not in the world of ideas that life is lived. Life is lived for better or worse in life, and to a man in life, his life can be no more absurd than it can be the opposite of absurd, whatever that opposite may be.
    • Return from the Excursion, Riders on Earth (1978)
  • What is more important in a library than anything else — is the fact that it exists.
    • "The Premise Of Meaning" in American Scholar (5 June 1972)
  • We are as great as our belief in human liberty — no greater. And our belief in human liberty is only ours when it is larger than ourselves.
    • Now Let Us Address the Main Question: Bicentennial of What?, New York Times (3 July 1976)
  • Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, there is no reason either in football or in poetry why the two should not meet in a man's life if he has the weight and cares about the words.
    • Moonlighting on Yale Field, Riders on Earth (1978)
  • The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life—to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity.
    • Art and Law, Riders on Earth (1978)
  • If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God.
    • Dialogue from MacLeish's play J.B., an adaptation of the Bible's Book of Job, also quoted in The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates (2012) by Howard Bloom
  • To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.
    • The New Yourk Times, December 25, 1968 quoted in the book "Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations" by James H. Billington, Library of Congress


  • Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.

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