05 February, 2009
Richard Ghormley Eberhart was an American poet who published more than a dozen books of poetry and approximately twenty works in total. He received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Selected Poems: 1930-1965 and a National Book Award in 1977 for Collected Poems: 1930-1976.
Eberhart was born in 1904 in Austin, a small town in southeast Minnesota. He grew up on a 40 acres (16 ha) estate called Burr Oaks, since partitioned into hundreds of residential lots. He published a volume of poetry called Burr Oaks in 1947, and many of his poems reflect his youth in rural America.
Eberhart began college at the University of Minnesota, but following his mother's death from cancer in 1921 -- the event that prompted him to begin writing poetry -- he transferred to Dartmouth College. After graduation he worked as a ship's hand, among other jobs, then studied at St. John's College, Cambridge, where I.A. Richards encouraged him to continue writing poetry, and where he took a further degree. After serving as private tutor to the son of King Prajadhipok of Siam in 1931-1932, Eberhart pursued graduate study for a year at Harvard University.
His first book of poetry A Bravery of Earth was published in London in 1930. It reflected his experiences in Cambridge and his experience as a ship's hand. Reading the Spirit published in 1937 contains one of his best known poems "The Groundhog".
He taught for eight years at the St. Mark's School (1933-1941), where Robert Lowell was one of his students. In 1941 he married Helen Butcher. They had two children.
During World War II he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve; this experience led him to write, in one of his best-known poems, "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment":
Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man's fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?
In 1945, Eberhart published Poems: New and Selected containing "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" and other poems written during his service including "Dam Neck, Virginia" and "World War". He also edited War and the Poet: An Anthology of Poetry Expressing Man's Reactions to the Present claiming to be the first collection of poems based on war.
After the war, Eberhart worked for six years for his wife's family's floor wax company, the Butcher Polish Company. Burr Oaks was his first work published after the war in 1947 followed by Brotherhood of Men in 1949. In 1950 he was a founder of the Poets' Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
From the early 1950s until his retirement he dedicated himself to writing poems and teaching at institutions of higher education, including the University of Washington, Brown University, Swarthmore College, Tufts University, Trinity College, University of Connecticut, Columbia University, University of Cincinnati, Wheaton College, Princeton University and Dartmouth College. He taught for 30 years at Dartmouth as professor of English and poet-in-residence, where he was known for his encouragement of young poets.
Eberhart published Undercliff: Poems 1946-1953 containing Fragment of New York in 1953. Eberhart wrote a number of dramatic works in the 1950s and early 1960s which were performed regionally. These works included The Apparition, The Visionary Farms, Triptych, The Mad Musicians and Devils and Angels. In 1962, these works were published as Collected Verse Works.
Eberhart was sent to San Francisco by The New York Times to report on the Beat poetry scene. Eberhart wrote a piece published in the September 2, 1956 New York Times Book Review entitled "West Coast Rhythms" that helped call national attention to the Beat generation, and especially to Allen Ginsberg as the author of Howl, which he called "the most remarkable poem of the young group" (Allen Ginsberg, Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Editions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography, edited by Barry Miles, p. 155).
President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Eberhart as a member of the Advisory Committee on the Arts for the National Cultural Centre in 1959. As well, Eberhart was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for 1959-61, and was awarded a Bollingen Prize in 1962.
The Quarry: New Poems published in 1964 contained letters in verse to W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams as well as elegies, lyrics, character sketches, and monologues. His Selected Poems, 1930–1965 (1965) won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Collected Poems, 1930–1976, which appeared in 1976, won the National Book Award in 1977. He was New Hampshire's Poet Laureate from 1979 to 1984, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1982. Eberhart has also won the Shelley Memorial Award, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Award, and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. He died June 5, 2005 at the age of 101.