Two of my teachers were Archibald MacLeish and Yvor Winters. From the 1930s into the 1960s, Mac Leish’s poetic reputation flourished, but by the time he died in 1982, in his ninetieth year, the literary stock market had devalued him. On the other hand, Yvor Winters’s poems were never popular. His eccentric and belligerent criticism drew attention away from his poems, which were sparse, spare and sometimes beautiful. The two men were unlike in a thousand ways. MacLeish’s face was handsome, benign and horsey with a long upper lip; its expression was welcoming, friendly, confident, joshing. Winters’s face denied itself expression, looked cold and impassive, which is just how Winters wished to look; he admired words like cold and impassive.
It will surprise no one that these appearances concealed their own opposites. Private, loyal, combative and passionate, Winters’s rock-hardness formed the carapace of an anxious psyche; MacLeish’s engulfing gregarious heartiness concealed a diffident spirit. Maybe everyone is rock, everyone is whirlpool. Although these men neither sank ships nor drowned sailors, each could be dangerous; at least, each embodied a danger. In memory’s gallery I hang their faces—one sober, glaring, shaky with certainty; the other laughing and sturdy with self-doubt.