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The poet was born in Austin, Minnesota, and died in Hanover, New Hampshire, at the age of one hundred and one. His A.B. degree from Dartmouth in 1926 was followed by study in England with I. A. Richards at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and then a year at the Harvard University Graduate School.
Married to Helen Butcher from 1941 to 1993, Eberhart had two children, Richard and Gretchen, and six grandchildren. Eberhart’s U.S. Navy experience as an aerial-gunnery officer during World War II led to his most famous poem, “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment.” Eberhart’s Other jobs ranged from working in a Minnesota slaughterhouse to working as a ship’s hand to being in business in Boston for seven years, where he became vice-president of the Butcher Wax Company.
After teaching English at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts-where one of his students was Robert Lowell-Eberhart began collegiate teaching and served as Dartmouth College Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence from 1956 to 1971 and then emeritus.
He succeeded Robert Frost as the Library of Congress Consultant in Poetry, 1959-1961, during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. One of his assignments was to draw up a list of one hundred artists to be invited to the inauguration of President Kennedy.
Eberhart was the author of sixteen books, beginning with A Bravery of Earth in 1930, and co-editor of War and the Poet in 1945. Editions of his Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1966 and a National Book Award in 1977.
His writing of poetry was prompted by his mother’s death in 1921.
The Poetry of Richard Eberhart
Here are some stanzas from “Sanders Theater,” his Phi Beta Kappa Poem delivered at Harvard University in 1967.
Shall man destroy the face of earth,
By universal hatred bomb himself to death,
Shall he still lust, erect evil
And shall madness overwhelm our reason?
I see space travel as instinctive will
To solve our unredeemed problems in the heavens
As if man were reborn again as a child
To the limitless delights of the imagination.
In the old poem the cow jumped over the moon,
We plan with luck to hit it on the nose,
And go off on further sidereal exploits
To escape the confines of the population explosion,
For surely if we cannot stand up on the earth
Some mutation will provide heavenly exodus
And we shall be as we have never been,
Things will not be, as always, what they seem.
But new. How shall I make a mythology
Of our gross and stubborn naturalism?
What words are there for our new energies,
And how shall we speak to the generations of the young?
Shall we say science is a fairest flower
In the gardens of our incontestable ecstasies?
How shall we use a computer mind, how ever,
To walk in the comprehension of the intellect?
Do I have to be ravished by the psychedelic?
Do I have to pray that I shall be undone?
When to the powers of song spirit speaks
There is a source of spiritual unison
Which links the songs of the centuries
To the anguish of the individual heart.
The tides coming in and going out
Are mysteries to the subtle understanding.
I prostrate myself before the old mythologies,
Believe not one of them, and demand a myth
Of the original spirit of the American ego,
A world-poetry of the international psyche.
I call for the love of man in every man
Brotherhood from Iceland to Dar-es-Salaam.
I call for passionate love and passionate care,
For lack of violence and for love of peace,
For love of poetry as inner being,
And for freedom as inviolable need.
In poetry of the innermost heart
Of instinctual life shall be the spirit of freedom.
I shall believe that man will exceed himself.
What future will arise centuries hence?
Shall man stand, as in the tarpits of Los Angeles,
As a lost animal among the galaxies?