Invocation to the Social Muse

By Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982 Archibald MacLeish
Señora, it is true the Greeks are dead.

It is true also that we here are Americans:
That we use the machines: that a sight of the god is unusual:   
That more people have more thoughts: that there are

Progress and science and tractors and revolutions and   
Marx and the wars more antiseptic and murderous   
And music in every home: there is also Hoover.

Does the lady suggest we should write it out in The Word?   
Does Madame recall our responsibilities? We are   
Whores, Fräulein: poets, Fräulein, are persons of

Known vocation following troops: they must sleep with   
Stragglers from either prince and of both views.
The rules permit them to further the business of neither.

It is also strictly forbidden to mix in maneuvers.
Those that infringe are inflated with praise on the plazas—
Their bones are resultantly afterwards found under newspapers.

Preferring life with the sons to death with the fathers,   
We also doubt on the record whether the sons
Will still be shouting around with the same huzzas—

For we hope Lady to live to lie with the youngest.   
There are only a handful of things a man likes,   
Generation to generation, hungry or

Well fed: the earth’s one: life’s   
One: Mister Morgan is not one.

There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.

He that goes naked goes further at last than another.   
Wrap the bard in a flag or a school and they’ll jimmy his   
Door down and be thick in his bed—for a month:

(Who recalls the address now of the Imagists?)   
But the naked man has always his own nakedness.   
People remember forever his live limbs.

They may drive him out of the camps but one will take him.   
They may stop his tongue on his teeth with a rope’s argument—
He will lie in a house and be warm when they are shaking.

Besides, Tovarishch, how to embrace an army?   
How to take to one’s chamber a million souls?
How to conceive in the name of a column of marchers?

The things of the poet are done to a man alone
As the things of love are done—or of death when he hears the   
Step withdraw on the stair and the clock tick only.

Neither his class nor his kind nor his trade may come near him   
There where he lies on his left arm and will die,
Nor his class nor his kind nor his trade when the blood is jeering

And his knee’s in the soft of the bed where his love lies.

I remind you, Barinya, the life of the poet is hard—   
A hardy life with a boot as quick as a fiver:

Is it just to demand of us also to bear arms?


Archibald MacLeish, “Invocation to the Social Muse” from Collected Poems 1917-1982. Copyright © 1985 by The Estate of Archibald MacLeish. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Collected Poems 1917-1952 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1952)

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Poet Archibald MacLeish 1892–1982

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Subjects War & Conflict, Friends & Enemies, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Archibald  MacLeish

Biography

A poet, playwright, lawyer, and statesman, Archibald MacLeish's roots were firmly planted in both the new and the old worlds. His father, the son of a poor shopkeeper in Glasgow, Scotland, was born in 1837—the year of Victoria's coronation as Queen of England—and ran away first to London and then, at the age of eighteen, to Chicago. His mother was a Hillard, a family that, as Dialogues of Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Friends & Enemies, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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