Richard Eberhart was born in 1904 in Minnesota, the privileged son of a Hormel vice president. He grew up on a large estate called Burr Oaks (and named one of his books for it), and later said it was the trauma of his mother’s death from cancer and his father’s loss of fortune that made him a poet. He was educated at Dartmouth and Cambridge, worked on a steamer and for his wife’s family company, served as private tutor to the son of the King of Siam, taught college for many years, and died in 2005 at 101.
Many of Eberhart’s poems deal with life and death in the natural world (like “The Groundhog,” one of his most oft-quoted poems). He also wrote about social issues—after serving in the Navy during World War II, he published a number of poems on war (like “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment,” another famous one). He believed in inspiration and spoke of poems as “spells against death,” but he also wrote from specific experience and said “Poetry is a confrontation of the whole being with reality.”
Eberhart as teacher and mentor:
In the 1950s, Eberhart settled into his vocation and began a long career as a college teacher and mentor to generations of younger poets. He taught at Princeton, Tufts, Brown and other universities, but his longest tenure was at Dartmouth, where he lectured into his 80s. He was also a founder of Poets’ Theatre, wrote a number of verse plays and fostered young talent in that genre. In 1956 he reported on the Beat scene in San Francisco for the NY Times and singled out Allen Ginsberg as most remarkable.
Books by Richard Eberhart:
- New and Selected Poems, 1930 - 1990 (Blue Moon Books, 1990)
- Collected Poems, 1930 - 1986 (Oxford University Press, 1988)
- The Long Reach: New and Uncollected Poems, 1948 - 1984 (New Directions, 1984)
- War and the Poet, An Anthology of Poetry Expressing Man’s Attitudes to War from Ancient Times to the Present (edited by Richard Eberhart, Greenwood Press, 1974)