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A life lived for Poetry

In Memoriam: Richard Ghormley Eberhart, Class of 1925 Professor of English, Emeritus (1904-2005)

Richard Ghormley Eberhart, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Class of 1925 Professor of English, Emeritus, died June 9, 2005, at age 101.

Richard Eberhart
Richard Eberhart '26 speaks in 1982. (photo by Stuart Bratesman)

A 1926 graduate of Dartmouth, he died of natural causes in Hanover after a short illness. A memorial service was held in Rollins Chapel on June 19.

Eberhart was regarded as one of the nation's finest and most highly honored poets. Winner of the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry from the Yale University Library and the National Book Award, he also served as New Hampshire's Poet Laureate from 1979 to 1984 and as a fellow in the Academy of American Poets. He authored more than a dozen volumes of verse and verse drama. His works include A Bravery of Earth (1930), Undercliff (1953), Shifts of Being (1968) and Ways of Light (1980). His poems are collected in Selected Poems, 1930-1965 (1965), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, Collected Poems, 1930-1976 (1976), The Long Reach: New and Uncollected Poems, 1948-1984 (1984), and New and Selected Poems: 1930-1990 (1990). His Collected Verse Plays was published in 1962 and his poems have been included in hundreds of anthologies.

Dartmouth President James Wright said, "The passing of Dick Eberhart represents a substantial loss to Dartmouth, the world of poetry and the world at large. His presence and his work graced all three. We will miss him greatly."

Born in Austin, Minn., on April 5, 1904, Eberhart received a B.A. from Dartmouth. After working his way across the South Pacific as a steamship crewman, he made his way to England where he went on to earn a B.A. and an M.A. from St. John's College at Cambridge University. He studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1932-33. Shortly after his return from England, he was recruited to tutor the son of King Prajhadipok of Siam (now Thailand), for which he was awarded the keys to the city of Bangkok and the Order of the Royal White Elephant, Third Class.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Lieutenant and Lt. Commander and on his discharge worked as the Assistant Manager to the Vice President of The Butcher Polish Company in Boston, Mass. In 1952, he returned to teaching, serving as poet-in-residence, professor and lecturer at a variety of institutions of higher learning, including the University of Washington, the University of Connecticut, Wheaton College and Princeton. In 1956, he was appointed Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Dartmouth. In 1968, he was named Class of 1925 Professor of English and in 1970, he entered semi-retirement, but continued to teach part-time at Dartmouth until the mid-1980s. From 1975 until the mid-80s he was also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, his winter home.

From 1959 to 1961, Eberhart was Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, in which position he succeeded poet Robert Frost. In 1959, he was appointed by President Eisenhower to the Advisory Committee on the Arts for the National Cultural Center in Washington. He received honorary doctor of letters degrees from Dartmouth, Skidmore College, the College of Wooster and Colgate University. He was also named an Honorary Vice President of The Butcher Polish Company and appointed to its board of directors. In 1991, the Austin Public High School in Minnesota renamed its library the Richard Eberhart Media Center during a community-wide celebration. That same year, he and his wife turned their family home at 5 Webster Terrace over to Dartmouth, which marked the site with a plaque honoring his accomplishments. In 2004, Dartmouth celebrated Eberhart's life and work for his 100th birthday, renaming its poetry reading room in his honor.

Those who knew him remember him as warm-hearted, energetic and generous of spirit. His poetry, though contemplative and philosophical, was characterized by this passion and energy as well. Accepting his National Book Award in 1977, he told the assembly, "Poets should not die for poetry but should live for it," and it is in his poetry that he will live in the public memory, as the author of such verses as "The Groundhog" which begins:

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook.
and mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.

Professor Eberhart's friend and colleague Cleopatra Mathis, Professor of English and Director of Dartmouth's Creative Writing Program, remembered him warmly, saying, "Dick was one of our finest American poets, not only in his work but in his embrace of other poets. He was generous and openhearted, and in that way, his life exemplified what his poems expressed."

He loved the immortal qualities of poetry as he explained in an interview in 1979, "Poems in a way are spells against death. They are milestones to see where you are now, to perpetuate your feelings, to establish them. If you have in any way touched the central heart of mankind's feelings, you'll survive."

Eberhart was married to Helen Elizabeth "Betty" Butcher from 1941 until her death in 1993. They spent more than four decades summering in Maine on Cape Rosier where he would skipper his pride and joy, a cruiser he named R�?ve. In it, he ferried his large circle of fellow poets, writers and artists to islands for summer picnics.  He spent his final years living quietly at Kendal-at-Hanover, a retirement community.

Eberhart is survived by two children, son Richard Eberhart '68 of Phippsburg, Me., and daughter Gretchen Eberhart Cherington of Meriden, N.H., and six grandchildren: Ben Cherington of Boston, Mass., Molly Cherington of Denver, Colo., Lena Eberhart of Brooklyn, N.Y., James Eberhart, currently serving with the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, Samuel Eberhart and Rosalind Eberhart of Phippsburg, Me.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Austin Public Education Foundation for the benefit of the Richard Eberhart Poetry Prizes established by his family in 1994 annually to honor young poets in grades K-12 from his hometown.

Donations may be sent to:

Austin Public Education Foundation
Richard Eberhart Poetry Prizes
P.O. Box 878
Austin, MN 55912


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Last Updated: 12/17/08