Biographical Poetry posted October 29, 2023

This work has reached the exceptional level
Master Playwright of his Age

Arthur Miller

by Debbie D'Arcy

His upscale life would start to pale
when hardship hit the land
The Crash of Wall Street would entail
a fam'ly move, unplanned.
This shaped the man who'd later be
an artist of great note.
(His "common man" bore tragedy
in plays he later wrote.)
But first he'd need to earn his keep, 
a menial path he'd tread
to earn enough and then to reap
the fruits of those he read.
His first success on Broadway would
expose his leftist fight
In All my Sons he vainly stood
for truth to conquer might.
Then Death of Salesman would comprise
a failure to achieve,
a dream* that Willy built on lies
that forced him to deceive.
And Willy, thus, could not survive,
he lost the trust so dear.
Despair would overshadow drive,
his only outcome clear.
In Crucible, its witch hunt would
reflect the scare* where feds
would seek to purge the bad from good,
arrest the suspect reds.
For Miller was among the throng
and questioned on his creed.
His art had fired suspicion long
that he might sow a seed.
With social nod, his fame would rise
when Mar'lyn came along.
Though star-crossed fate 'twould sadly be,
at first they'd do no wrong.
But Marilyn had yearned for grace
to dignify her role -
He wrote The Misfits to embrace
her itch* to meet that goal.
Her drug abuse would then forestall
a future twixt the two.
He'd pen After the Fall, his call,
that thinly veiled his view.
His work would hold a mirror to
the struggle that he knew -
in life, the man defeated, who
still fought for that felt true.
In Grecian pathos, he'd reveal
this loss of worth on stage.
With mastery, he would unpeel
the spirit of the age. 



Stanza 1-3 Born in 1915 into a Jewish, well-heeled family in Manhattan, Miller enjoyed a privileged childhood until the Wall Street Crash in 1929 when his family were ruined. He quickly learned the necessities of earning his own keep, firstly by working on a bread round and then, later, so that he could afford to go to university, in a variety of menial jobs.

Stanza 4 His first success on Broadway was All my Sons (1947) based on a true story of individuals (later convicted before Congress of neglect of duty) who sought to expose a conspiracy to approve defective aircraft engines destined for military use. Miller would much later be questioned about his Communist leanings, on the basis of this play and his support for principles versus politics.

Stanza 5-6 * The American Dream (A land of opportunity that allows the possibility of upward mobility, freedom and equality for people of all classes who work hard and have the will to succeed.")
Death of a Salesman, a classic of world theatre premiered in 1949 on Broadway. This is the tragedy of Willy Loman, a man destroyed by false values that are in large part the values of his society. It was important for Miller that he placed "the common man" at the centre of his tragedy. Failing to make amends for a secret affair from his past, he found himself in a web of deceit in which the only outcome for him was suicide.

Stanza 7-8 *scare - the red scare of communism.
The Crucible was based on the witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-93, a series of persecutions that he considered an echo of the McCarthyism of his day when investigations of subversive activities were widespread. In 1956 when Miller was himself called before the Un-American Activities Committee, he refused to name people he had seen earlier at an alleged Communist writers' meeting. He was convicted of contempt but appealed and won.

Stanza 9-10 "Star-crossed" - not favoured by the stars, ill-fated.
*itch - a nod to her earlier movie, The Seven Year Itch.
As his fame grew with his appeal to the working man, he met and married Marilyn Monroe. Their union (described by Norman Mailer as one of "the great American brain and the great American body) created a Hollywood storm but it was not to last. There is little doubt that they were very much in love but Miller's reputation was always paramount and Monroe, who craved respectability in her roles, needed a constant father figure in her life. Miller, however, wrote The Misfits especially for her. A Western themed film released in 1961, it is now considered by critics to be a masterpiece and one of the best films of the 60s. Monroe died a year after its release.

Stanza 11 After the Fall (1964), Miller, arguably (he insists it was fictional) portrays Monroe in the less than complimentary role of Maggie, whose downward course is traced from popular entertainer to bitter neurotic to suicide.

Stanza 12-13 Miller often criticised in his plays the great American Dream. His own background had revealed that, even with wealth, everything could be quickly lost via the control of governments and large organisations. He therefore aligned himself to the working man and drew on Greek tragedy and playwrights, such as Ibsen, to frame the themes of his works. His social attacks also extended to racial injustices long before they were taken up by the Civil Rights Movement. In short, he was an advocate for the victim, supporting the individual (a searching concern for the inner life) against the might of authority (e.g. Monica Lewinsky in the Clinton scandal).

His substantial body of works includes plays, film scripts and essays which continue to be re-staged internationally and adapted for the screen.

At the time of his death in 2005 he was considered one of America's greatest dramatists.

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