Eberhart, Richard (Ghormley)

views updated

EBERHART, Richard (Ghormley)

Nationality: American. Born: Austin, Minnesota, 5 April 1904. Education: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1922–23; Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, B.A. 1926; St. John's College, Cambridge, B.A. 1929, M.A. 1933; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1932–33. Military Service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1942–46: Lieutenant Commander. Family: Married Helen Butcher in 1941; one son and one daughter. Career: Basement floorwalker, Marshall Field and Company, Chicago, 1926–27; slaughterhouse worker, New York, 1929. Tutor to the two daughters of the Proctors (of Proctor and Gamble), 1929–30, the son of King Prajadhipok of Siam, 1930–31, and the son of Prime Minister Kridakava. English teacher, St. Mark's School, Southboro, Massachusetts, 1933–41, and Cambridge School, Kendal Green, Massachusetts, 1941–42. Assistant manager to vice president, Butcher Polish Company, Boston, 1946–52: now honorary vice president and member of the board of directors. Visiting professor, University of Washington, Seattle, 1952–53, 1967, 1972; professor of English, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1953–54; visiting professor, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts, 1954–55; resident fellow in creative writing and Gauss Lecturer, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1955–56. Professor of English and poet-in-residence, 1956–68, Class of 1925 Professor, 1968–70, and professor emeritus, 1970–80, and since 1986 poet-in-residence, Dartmouth College. Elliston Lecturer, University of Cincinnati, 1961; visiting professor, Columbia University, New York, 1975, University of California, Davis, 1975, and University of Florida, Gainesville, winter term, l974–82; Wallace Stevens Fellow, Timothy Dwight College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1976; honorary fellow, St. John's College, Cambridge, 1986. Founder, 1950, and first president, Poets' Theater, Cambridge, Massachusetts; member, l955, and since 1964 director, Yaddo Corporation. Consultant in poetry, 1959–61, and honorary consultant in American letters, 1963–69, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Awards: Guarantor's prize, 1946, and Harriet Monroe memorial prize, 1950 (Poetry, Chicago); New England Poetry Club Golden Rose, 1950; Shelley memorial award, 1952; Harriet Monroe memorial award, 1955; American Academy grant, 1955; Bollingen prize, 1962; Pulitzer prize, 1966; Academy of American Poets fellowship, 1969; National Book award, 1977; President's Medallion, University of Florida, 1977; World Academy of Arts and Letters diploma award, 1981; Sarah Josepha Hale award, 1982; Robert Frost Medal, 1986. D. Litt: Dartmouth College, 1954; Skidmore College, Saratoga, New York, 1966; College of Wooster, Ohio, 1969; Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, 1974; D.H.L.: Franklin Pierce College, Rindge, New Hampshire, 1978; St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York, 1985; Plymouth State College, New Hampshire, 1987. Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, 1979. Since 1972 honorary president, Poetry Society of America. Member: American Academy, 1960, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967. Address: 80 Lyme Road, #161, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, U.S.A.



A Bravery of Earth. London, Cape, 1930; New York, Cape and Smith, 1931.

Reading the Spirit. London, Chatto and Windus, 1936; New York, Oxford University Press, 1937.

Song and Idea. London, Chatto and Windus, 1940; New York, Oxford University Press, 1942.

A World-View. Medford, Massachusetts, Tufts College Press, 1941.

Poems, New and Selected. New York, New Directions, 1944.

Rumination. Hanover, New Hampshire, Wayzgoose Press, 1947.

Burr Oaks. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1947.

Brotherhood of Men. Pawlet, Vermont, Banyan Press, 1949.

An Herb Basket. Cummington, Massachusetts, Cummington Press, 1950.

Selected Poems. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1951.

Undercliff: Poems 1946–1953. London, Chatto and Windus, 1953; New York, Oxford University Press, 1954.

Great Praises. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1957.

The Oak. Hanover, New Hampshire, Pine Tree Press, 1957.

Collected Poems 1930–60, Including 51 New Poems. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1960.

The Quarry: New Poems. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1964.

The Vastness and Indifference of the World. Milford, New Hampshire, Ferguson Press, 1965.

Fishing for Snakes. Privately printed, 1965.

Selected Poems 1930–1965. New York, New Directions, 1965.

Thirty One Sonnets. New York, Eakins Press, 1967.

Shifts of Being. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1968.

The Achievement of Richard Eberhart: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems, edited by Bernard F. Engle. Chicago, Scott Foresman, 1968.

Three Poems. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pym Randall Press, 1968.

Fields of Grace. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1972.

Two Poems. West Chester, Pennsylvania, Aralia Press, 1975.

Collected Poems 1930–1976, Including 43 New Poems. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1976.

Poems to Poets. Lincoln, Massachusetts, Penmaen Press, 1976.

Hour, Gnats. Davis, California, Putah Creek Press, 1977.

Survivors. Brockport, New York, Boa, 1979.

Ways of Light: Poems 1972–1980. New York, Oxford University Press, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1980.

New Hampshire: Nine Poems. Roslindale, Massachusetts, Pym Randall Press, 1980.

Four Poems. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Palaemon Press, 1980.

Florida Poems. Gulfport, Florida, Konglomerati Press, 1981.

The Long Reach: New and Uncollected Poems 1948–1984. New York, New Directions, 1984.

Snowy Owl. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Palaemon Press, 1984.

Throwing Yourself Away. Roslyn, New York, Stone House Press, 1984.

Spite Fence. Charleston, West Virginia, Mountain State Press, 1984.

Collected Poems 1930–1986. New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Maine Poems. New York, Oxford University Press, 1989.

New and Selected Poems 1930–1990. New York, Blue Moon Press. 1990.

Recording: Richard Eberhart Reading His Own Poems, Caedmon, 1966.


The Apparition (produced Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951). Included in Collected Verse Plays, 1962.

The Visionary Farms (produced Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1952). Included in Collected Verse Plays, 1962.

Triptych (produced Chicago, 1955). Included in Collected Verse Plays, 1962.

The Mad Musician, and Devils and Angels (produced Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1962). Included in Collected Verse Plays, 1962.

Collected Verse Plays (includes Triptych, The Visionary Farms, The Apparition, The Mad Musician, Devils and Angels, Preamble I and II). Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1962.

The Bride from Mantua, adaptation of a play by Lope de Vega (produced Hanover, New Hampshire, 1964).

Chocurua. New York, Nadja Press, 1981.


Poetry As a Creative Principle (lecture). Norton, Massachusetts, Wheaton College, 1952.

Of Poetry and Poets. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Editor, with others, Free Gunner's Handbook, revised edition. Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Air Station, 1944.

Editor, with Selden Rodman, War and the Poet. An Anthology of Poetry Expressing Man's Attitude to War from Ancient Times to the Present. New York, Devin Adair, 1945.

Editor,… Dartmouth Poems. Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth Publications-Butcher Fund, 12 vols., 1958–59, 1962–71.

Editor, To Eberhart from Ginsberg: A Letter About "Howl" 1956. Lincoln. Massachusetts. Penmaen Press. 1976.


Bibliography: Richard Eberhart: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1921–1987 by Stuart Wright, assisted by Charles and Stephanie Lovett, Westport, Connecticut, Meckler, 1989.

Manuscript Collection: Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Critical Studies: "Richard Eberhart" by Ralph J. Mills, Jr., in Contemporary American Poetry, New York, Random House, 1960, and Richard Eberhart by Mills, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1966; introduction to The Achievement of Richard Eberhart, 1968, and Richard Eberhart, New York, Twayne, 1972, both by Bernard F. Engle; "The Cultivation of Paradox: The War Poetry of Richard Eberhart" by Richard J. Fein, in Forum (Muncie, Indiana), spring 1969; Richard Eberhart: The Progress of an American Poet by Joel Roache, New York, Oxford University Press, 1971; Richard Eberhart (film), directed by Samuel Mandelbaum, New York, Tri-Pix, 1972; Richard Eberhart (film), directed by Irving Broughton, Seattle, University of Washington, 1974; Richard Eberhart: A Celebration, edited by Sydney Lea and others, n.p., Kenyon Hill, 1980; "A Tribute to Richard Eberhart" by Cleanth Brooks, in South Atlantic Review (Atlanta, Georgia), 50(4), November 1985; "Light in Richard Eberhart's Verse" by Donald Gutierrez, in Ball State University Forum (Muncie, Indiana), 27(1), winter 1986; "Richard Eberhart Symposium Issue" edited by Sue Brannan Walker and Jane Mayhall, in Negative Capability, 6(2–3), spring-summer 1986.

Richard Eberhart comments:

My poetry celebrates life, which does not last long, and mankind, which is temporal as well, through understanding and perception of my times, insofar as I am able to create poems that may communicate values and meanings I can know.

*  *  *

Throughout the years Richard Eberhart has pursued a romantic poetry in the tradition of Blake, Wordsworth, and Whitman. He has been concerned with understanding and transcending concrete experience, and his predominant themes have centered around the brutal reality of death. Eberhart's goal has remained constant: to achieve a connection with the unifying force that runs through all things. He has accomplished this most frequently in the act of writing his verse, and his poetry has become the vehicle for intimations of immortality.

Eberhart is an "inspirational" poet. As he puts it, "The poet breathes in maybe God," and poetry is "dynamic, Protean." The result, however, as even his most ardent admirers admit, is an unevenness in quality. One finds stirring and exquisite lines alongside phrases marred by sentimentality, pedantic diction, and banal abstraction. "The poet's mind is a filament informed with the irrational vitality of energy, as it was discovered in our time in quantum mechanics," he continues, and "the quanta may shoot off any way." Needless to say, one looks to the poems of steady inspiration, where "the poet writes with a whole clarity," able to "aggravate" perception into life.

Eberhart's best work results from his ability to transform keenly felt perceptions through the very language of the senses into moral, metaphysical, and sometimes even religious experience. His most moving poems retain the urgency and exaltation of the felt moment as they simultaneously transform that moment into something abstract and often mystical. As Eberhart explains, the successful poet "makes the world anew; something grows out of the old, which he locks in words" ("Big Rock").

The early and well-known "This Fevers Me" expresses Eberhart's unbounded wonder at nature and the fierce exhilaration that "lyric" and "lovely" nature arouses in him. God "incarnate" resides in the external world, and, as such, "This fevers me, this sun on green. / On grass glowing, this young spring. / The secret hallowing is come, / Regenerate sudden incarnation, / Mystery made visible / In growth." Such an intimate connection to physical nature involves the poet in the cycles of growth and decay, and he must therefore search for a transcendent significance. Thus, although all of nature ultimately wastes and decays, like the lamb that lies "putrid" on "the slant hill" ("For a Lamb"), the poet knows that there is a fundamental continuity for all natural things. The lamb, he believes, is "in the wind somewhere, / … There's a lamb in the daisies."

"The Groundhog," his most frequently anthologized poem, goes even further in expressing Eberhart's wild and exhilarated transcendence in the face of physical decay. The poet has returned regularly to the site of a dead groundhog in order to observe its disintegration and absorption into natural processes. As a result, as its bones lie "bleaching in the sunlight," they seem to be as "beautiful as architecture." Witnessing the groundhog's metamorphosis during his own aging process has transformed the poet as well—from a sense of "naked frailty" to one of "strange love" and even "fever"—to a "passion of the blood." His confrontation with and then articulation of death—his poetry—have given him the "immense energy" of "the sun." He also sees himself in the company of historical figures who have similarly transcended the ravages of time through imagination and concludes with the shared ecstasy of "Alexander in his tent; /… Montaigne and his tower, / … Saint Theresa in her wild lament." Another of Eberhart's familiar themes is represented in "If I Could Only Live at the Pitch That Is Near Madness." He writes of the intensity of childhood, of the time of "incomparable light," when "everything" was "violent, vivid, and of infinite possibility." Nevertheless, although childhood was a time of visionary possibility, the grown man accepts and indeed delights in the obligations of adulthood. Thrust "into [the] realm of complexity," he even embraces the responsibilities of maturity. For Eberhart there is a compensatory joy in "the moral answer," in understanding and performing the responsibilities of adulthood.

Age brings with it, for example, the awareness of human cruelty, and many of Eberhart's poems treat the varieties of human suffering that grow out of social, political, and family strife. One is obliged, he states in his famous "Am I My Neighbor's Keeper?," to care for his fellow humans. In his "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" he asks what sort of God would permit the barbarism of war: "You would feel that after so many centuries / God would give man to relent."

Many of Eberhart's poems lament the weariness and loneliness of old age and the poet's despair when he senses an indifferent universe. "A name may be glorious but death is death," he writes in "I Walked over the Grave of Henry James," incapable of intuiting for James the transcendence of his lamb or groundhog. Similarly, when intellect rules spirit, it "kills all delight / [and] brings the solemn inward pain / Of truth into the heart again" ("In a Hard Intellectual Light"). In "The Goal of Intellectual Man" he explains that love is "difficult, dangerous, pure, [and] clear," but love alone is the "truth of the positive hour / Composing all of human power."

Virtually overlooked in the Eberhart oeuvre are the verse plays, which were published in collected form in l962. Eberhart admits that in writing these "the motives are the same as those for lyric poetry,… a basic split in the soul and a need to create, to compensate, to make a whole world." He also adds the revealing comment that "verse drama with me has been a thrust of the whole man," his effort toward "more control of emotion." Triptych has virtually no action and consists entirely of poetry. It is a modern morality play with a woman in dialogue with both an airy sprite and a man of sense:

   Percy: Reason and treason are the same thing to me …
   John: You merely rave against what you love.
   Percy: If I rave against what I love,
          You fail me in reciprocal
              Love of what you hate.
   Priscilla: What sport is this?

Choosing a Monument is another three-way dialogue, this time between a sister and her two brothers. In Preamble I a poet and a writer exchange ideas about the problems facing the modern generation. In Preamble II two authors further discuss the problems of the age. Eberhart's other plays include The Apparition, The Visionary Farms (his first effort to include a plot), Devils and Angels, and The Mad Musician. Eberhart's endeavors in verse drama lasted primarily from the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s.

Some of Eberhart's best poems in later volumes like Ways of Light address "love and the challenge of time." Eberhart listens to the owl cry ("Who") and returns to the "rowboat" image of his youth to contemplate the concrete and visionary worlds, the seals and "loon's cry far beyond the human." The Long Reach stresses the fragility of life, not just the immutability of death. Once again, in his typically nonironic, direct, and occasionally naive terms, Eberhart accepts the conditions of love and responsibility that are imposed by life. He also reflects on what he has come to define as the oblivion of death.

Maine Poems, a collection of verse published throughout his career, reminds us of Eberhart's uncertainty concerning the future. In "Old Tree by the Penobscot," as the poet identifies once again with a natural object, he observes how a strong, beautiful, and well-rooted tree has endured a kind of "stalwart declination." Will he, the poet asks, like the tree, change in form and grow to be unrecognizable? Will he become "a myth of time"? In the end one can only "raise his hands to God" ("Death in the Mines"), although Eberhart seems relatively confident that both nature and poetry assure immortality: "A wind will spring up, a spirit arise / And ride on the air lightly, supremely clear, / In other centuries, and in other civilizations." One of the most moving and direct poems here, "Looking at the Waters," concludes with "Can you say anything new about looking at the waters? / … I wish I could figure out the nature of the world, / Why one boat heads one way, why one heads another, / What is the current that shapes our direction." As though writing an answer to all of his earlier queries, the poem ends with the lines "No moment is so good as a sure moment / When words take on a supernatural mystery, / And wherever the sea and we are going, / Ultimately the best is not knowing."

—Lois Gordon

About this article

Eberhart, Richard (Ghormley)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article