In a recent comment, David Lehman asked about Dylan's relationship with Archibald MacLeish. In Chronicles, his autobiography, Dylan reported that he had just returned from his father's funeral when he found a letter from MacLeish asking him to write some songs for a new play. The play was Scratch, an adaptation of Benet's story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Since Dylan's father died on June 5, 1968, it was sometime after that when Dylan and his wife drove from Woodstock to Massachusetts to see "Archie," as Dylan called the poet, someone he thought at the heights of American poetry.
The meeting itself did not go all that well. MacLeish did most of the talking. He was respectful and careful to mention that he thought Dylan a serious poet. But Dylan must have been shocked to discover that MacLeish still thought of him as a protest singer. Dylan immediately grasped that there would be no artistic relationship, although he did end up writing three songs for the play: "Father of Night," "Time Passes Slowly," and "New Morning." They didn't work for the show, which, Dylan wryly noted, closed after two days.
At least the meeting went better than the one Dylan had with Carl Sandburg in February 1964. The poet wouldn't let Dylan past the porch of his ranch in Hendersonville, N.C. In the twenty minutes Sandburg gave him, the poet said he had not even heard of Dylan. And Dylan tried to meet other poets as well, especially the Beats. Dylan was particularly taken with Allen Ginsberg, whom he had first met on December 26, 1963. Dylan liked Ginsberg, who lived outside the rules of society, was naive in his idealism, and didn't try to use Dylan. He let Dylan be himself. He was kind.
It is easy to suggest that Dylan wanted to meet famous poets because they had the authority to grant him, by association, an authentic poetic identity. But I think there was a deeper reason for his interest. Dylan was in search of models and mentors. He had to be overwhelmed by his own talent and by the reaction to it. He needed to speak with people who had the same sort of access to language he did. There weren't many people with as congenial a relationship to English who had also achieved widespread recognition. Only they could help him understand how an artist survives and deals with fame. Sandburg wouldn't listen. MacLeish couldn't understand. Only Ginsberg among the poets was a genuine teacher, someone who had an intense intelligence combined with a willingness to listen and take seriously what others said. He gave Dylan an education. He helped Dylan acquire a secure sense of what a poetic self was and the way to maintain the integrity of that self in a very strange world.