Richard Eberhart Biography

Born Richard Ghormley Eberhart, April 5, 1904, in Austin, MN; died after a brief illness, June 9, 2005, in Hanover, NH. Poet and educator. The works of Richard Eberhart brought him fame and honor. Two of his most famous poems, "The Groundhog," and "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" can be found in many anthologies and collections. He won all of the most prestigious awards for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize. In addition to writing poems, Eberhart also taught at Dartmouth College, inspiring his students to fully express themselves in poetry. Jay Parini, a professor at Middlebury College and a former colleague of Eberhart's, told the Los Angeles Times, "I saw so many poets come through his door and seek him out. He was a poet of real achievement."

Eberhart was born on April 5, 1904, in Austin, Minnesota. His father worked as a vice president for the George A. Hormel meatpacking company. Unlike many poets and writers, Eberhart's childhood was a happy one. The family home was a 40-acre estate, named Burr Oaks, which he would later use as a title for a volume of poetry.

Eberhart began his college education at the University of Minnesota, but after his freshman year, his mother died of cancer. His father lost the family fortune during this time as well. There was still enough money for Eberhart to complete his education, so he transferred to Dartmouth. After receiving his bachelor's degree, Eberhart worked as a crewman aboard a freighter in the South Pacific. He worked several odd jobs, including as a tutor for the son of the King of Siam, before pursuing a second bachelors degree at Cambridge University in England. He also earned a masters degree at Cambridge. He entered Harvard University for postgraduate work, but only stayed for a year. Eberhart also released his first volume of poetry, A Bravery of Earth. He embraced Romanticism in his poetry, but his use of short lines and irregular rhythms kept him from fully participating in the style. According to the Chicago Tribune, Eberhart told New Hampshire's Concord Monitor, "Poems … are milestones, to see where you were then from where you are now. To perpetuate your feelings, to establish them."

Though Eberhart strongly wanted a career in poetry, it did not pay the bills, so in 1933 he joined the faculty of St. Mark's School, a boys' school, located in Massachusetts. He taught English for eight years, and some of his pupils included Robert Lowell, also later a Pulitzer Prize winner, Blair Clark, future editor of The Nation, and Frank Parker, an accomplished artist. In 1941, he married Helen Butcher and joined the Naval Reserve. During World War II he worked as a gunnery instructor.

After the war ended, Eberhart worked for the Butcher Polish Company, his in-laws' family business. After several years, he returned to the world of academia, first teaching at Princeton. He taught at several universities, before becoming a writer-in-residence at his alma mater, Dartmouth, where he would remain full-time until 1970, and part-time until 1981.

Eberhart also continued to release several volumes of poetry, including Reading the Spirit, Song and Idea, Burr Oaks, Great Praises, The Quarry: New Poems, Fields of Grace, and Maine Poems. Eberhart also wrote plays, and was a founder of the Poets' Theater. He also helped many aspiring poets, including Allen Ginsberg of the Beat Generation. Eberhart celebrated each new generation of poets, but he himself was considered old-fashioned and continued with his usual style throughout a career that spanned six decades. Eberhart also lectured at numerous colleges and universities, accepted several guest teaching positions, and held readings at various locations. From 1959 to 1961, he was the Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress (a precursor to the poet laureate position).

In the world of poetry, there are four major awards and Eberhart won all of them. In 1962 he won Yale University's Bollingen Prize for distinguished achievement in American poetry. Following the release of Selected Poems, 1930-1965, Eberhart was awarded the Pulitzer in 1966. In 1977, he won the National Book Award for Collected Poems, 1930-1976. Eberhart also received the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1986. He was a fellow of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

In addition to his love of poetry, Eberhart was an avid outdoorsman. He cross-country skied until the age of 90. Every year he and his family summered in Maine, where he enjoyed boating and was usually seen ferrying friends and colleagues around. After a short illness, Eberhart died at the age of 101 in his home in Hanover, New Hampshire on June 9, 2005. He was preceded in death by his wife, and is survived by his daughter, Gretchen, and son, Richard, as well as six grandchildren. Sources: Chicago Tribune, June 13, 2005, sec. 1, p. 9; Contemporary Poets, 7th ed., St. James Press, 2001; Independent (London), June 16, 2005, p. 39; Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2005, p. B10; New York Times, June 14, 2005, p. A21.

Ashyia N. Henderson

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