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Richard Eberhart

Richard Eberhart

When Richard Eberhart (1904-2005) died at 101 years, his colleague and friend Cleopatra Mathis said Eberhart "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."¹ Eberhart was a prolific poet who published over 12 collections of poetry in his lifetime. His poetry focuses primarily on themes of death as well as the tension between the innocence of childhood and the experience of adulthood. Living through almost the entirety of the 20th century, Eberhart was deeply influenced by the uncertainty of the century and the change of the modern world.

Content warning: brief mention of sexual assault

Richard Eberhart, caution mark, StudySmarter

Richard Eberhart Biography

Richard Ghormley Eberhart was born in 1904 in a small city in Minnesota. He had a comfortable and happy childhood until his teenage years when his mother died of lung cancer. It was after her death that Eberhart started writing poetry at the age of 18. Transferring out of the University of Minnesota, Eberhart began going to school at Dartmouth College

During his teenage years, his family also lost their fortune when his father's company fell victim to embezzlement. When Eberhart dabbled in drama later in life, he wrote The Visionary Farms (1952) about this time in his family's life.

Eberhart earned his BA from Dartmouth College in 1926. After graduation, he earned a second degree at Cambridge University. After working a series of odd jobs and traveling around the world, Eberhart returned to school again, studying at Harvard University and returning to Cambridge for his MA degree.

Richard Eberhart, front of Dartmouth College, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Eberhart graduated from Dartmouth College and would later return to teach there for many years.

Eberhart's first book of poetry, A Bravery of Earth (1930), received mixed criticism. Eberhart continued writing, and his most famous poem, "The Groundhog" (1934), was published four years later in the Listener (1934). From 1933 to 1941, Eberhart taught English at the St. Mark's School in Massachusetts.

Eberhart married in 1941 and enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. His position as an aerial gunnery instructor inspired him to write another one of his famous poems, "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" (1964).

Richard Eberhart, War planes from World War II, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Eberhart fought in World War II as an aerial gunnery instructor.

After the war, Eberhart joined his wife's family's company, where he became the vice-president. He left that position in the early 1950s to focus on his poetry and a career in academia. He taught at several colleges before finding a long-term position at Dartmouth, where he stayed for the rest of his career.

Eberhart won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his collection Poetry for Selected Poems, 1930-1965, and the 1977 National Book Award 1977 for Collected Poems, 1930-1976. He also served as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1959-1961.

He died in his home in New Hampshire in 2005 at the age of 101.

Richard Eberhart Facts

Eberhart lived a remarkable life, and his later poetry was largely impacted by the world of the 20th century. Here are a few fast facts about Eberhart.

  • Eberhart lived to be 101 years old. He wrote more than 12 collections of poetry and published about 20 works during his lifetime.
  • After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1926, Eberhart traveled widely and held a series of odd jobs. He worked as a ship's hand, in a slaughterhouse, and as the private tutor to the son of King Prajadhipok of Siam.
  • Robert Lowell was one of Eberhart's students while the latter taught at St. Mark's School in Massachusetts. Lowell would go on to become one of the most famous Confessional poets of the 1960s and 1970s.

Confessional poets used their own trauma as source material for their poetry. Lowell is known for revealing intimate details of his own life in his poetry. Do you see any of that in Eberhart's writing?

  • In the early 1930s, Eberhart was unemployed for a year and a half. Coming out of school in the midst of the Great Depression, he struggled for years. It was during this time that Eberhart focused more deeply on writing and gaining literary recognition.

Richard Eberhart, Fountain pen and paper, StudySmarterFig. 3 - During a long period of unemployment during the Great Depression, Eberhart focused on his poetry.

Richard Eberhart Obituary

When Eberhart died in 2005, Dartmouth College first published his obituary in a news release. The obituary features a short biography of his life and states that he died of natural causes in his home. It quotes several of his poems, a speech he gave when he accepted the 1977 National Book Award, and an interview from 1979. The obituary also features remarks from Dartmouth President James Wright and Cleopatra Mathis, one of Eberhart's colleagues in the writing program. Wright stated,

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."¹

Eberhart's daughter, Gretchen Eberhart Cherington, also wrote an obituary of sorts for her father. In 2020, she published a memoir entitled Poetic License. In it, she examined her conflicting feelings about her father, who was at times generous and kind and at other times cruel and abusive. The memoir presents information taken from Dartmouth's archives and interviews with Eberhart's friends. Cherington tracks her relationship with her father from childhood through adulthood. She also discusses how he sexually assaulted her when she was a child. Far from the loving obituary of Dartmouth, Poetic License reveals the dark side of Eberhart and positions him as a complicated, difficult man.

It can be hard to appreciate a poet when their personal life is problematic. Does hearing his daughter's relationship with her father affect your opinion on Eberhart as a poet? Are there other writers with deeply problematic personal lives that affect your interpretation of their work?

Richard Eberhart Poems

Two of Eberhart's most well-known poems are "The Groundhog" and "For a Lamb." These poems both examine themes of death.

"The Groundhog"

"The Groundhog" was first published in 1934. In it, the speaker is transfixed by a dead groundhog. The first time he sees it, he notices maggots eating its dead body. He feels both love and hatred for it as he realizes that both he and the groundhog are fragile creatures who will give way to decay. He returns the next Autumn and notices that the body is mostly gone, but the hull of the animal remains. The next summer, all the speaker sees are bits of hair and bone. Three years after his first encounter with the groundhog's corpse, nothing is left. The speaker thinks about all of these famous people in history who have succumbed to death and decay. The major themes in the poem are the fragility of life and the certainty of death.

"For a Lamb"

"For a Lamb," published in Collected Poems, 1930-1976, also examines mortality and impending death. The speaker sees a lamb lying in a field. It looks propped up by daisies and the grass is a soft pillow for its face. But the lamb is dead and the crows are eating it. The speaker wonders about the solidity of the lamb, who seems to have as much hold on the earth as the breeze. The dead animal is physically in the field, but its spirit has already left, having no solid traction to stay on earth.

Richard Eberhart, Lamb standing in field, StudySmarterFig. 4 - "For a Lamb" reflects on the mortality and solidity of a dead lamb.

Richard Eberhart Quotes

Eberhart lived through many uncertain times during his long life. He was a child during World War I, fought in World War II, and was unemployed during the Great Depression. He also lived through the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. The way Eberhart coped with the changing times was in his poetry. This can be seen in many of his most impactful quotes.

Life is stranger than any of us expected,There is a somber, imponderable fate.Enigma rules, and the heart has no certainty."

This quote was taken from his Selected Poems, 1930-1965 collection. It speaks to the uncertainty of life and the limitations that humans have. We often have no control over our fate, and our lives are defined by strangeness and uncertainty.

Poetry is a natural energy resource of our country. It has no energy crisis, possessing a potential that will last as long as the country. Its power is equal to that of any country in the world."¹

This quote was taken from a 1979 interview that Eberhart gave. In 1973, the Arab-Israeli War led to oil shortages in the United States. In 1979, the price of oil went up again when the Shah of Iran was forced out of the country—one of the main exporters of oil. Eberhart spoke directly to this moment of uncertainty and panic, stating that poetry can be a source of strength. Unlike oil, poetry will never run out and it can keep hope alive in the country long after the oil has disappeared.

Poets should not die for poetry but should live for it"¹

Eberhart said this during his speech when accepting his National Book Award in 1977. He thought poetry was a way to understand life and relate to the world around us. Poetry was one way to make sense of a mysterious world that seems to operate without regard for our human wants and desires. By living for poetry, poets can better understand life.

Richard Eberhart - Key takeaways

  • Richard Eberhart was born in 1905 in Minnesota.
  • He began writing poetry after his mother died when he was 18.
  • Eberhart wrote more than 12 collections of poetry and published about 20 works during his lifetime.
  • Two of his most famous poems are "The Groundhog" and "For a Lamb."
  • Eberhart was deeply influenced by the uncertainty of the 20th century. Many of his quotes present poetry as a source of strength and guidance amidst uncertainty.

Richard Eberhart, crisis banner, StudySmarter


References

  1. "In Memoriam: Richard Ghormley Eberhart Class of 1925 Professor of English, Emeritus, Dartmouth College (1904-2005)." Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs, Press Release. 10 June 2005.

Frequently Asked Questions about Richard Eberhart

Eberhart was an American poet who wrote prolifically in the 20th century. 

"The Groundhog" was written in 1934. 

The main theme in Eberhart's "The Groundhog" is death.

Death is a destroyer of innocence. 

One of Eberhart's quotes is "Poetry is a natural energy resource of our country." 

Final Richard Eberhart Quiz

Question

Who was Richard Eberhart? 

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Answer

Richard Eberhart was an American poet who was famous in the mid and late 20th century.

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Question

What traumatic event impacted Eberhart's childhood? 

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Answer

His mother died of lung cancer

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Question

When did Eberhart start writing poetry? 

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Answer

He started writing poetry at the age of 18 after his mother died. 

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What happened to Eberhart's family fortune? 

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Answer

His father's company was the victim of embezzlement and the family lost their wealth. 

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Where did Eberhart graduate with his BA? 

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Answer

Cambridge University and Dartmouth College

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Question

What war did Eberhart fight in? 

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Answer

World War II

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Question

What are two of Eberhart's most famous poems? 

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Answer

"The Groundhog" and "For a Lamb" are two of his most famous poems. 

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Question

What are the major themes in Eberhart's poetry? 

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Answer

Eberhart was known for exploring themes of death and the tension between experience and innocence. 

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Question

What college first published Eberhart's obituary?

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Answer

His obituary was first published in a press release from Dartmouth College. 

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Question

What are many of Eberhart's famous quotes about? 

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Answer

The power of poetry in the face of uncertainty

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Question

Who wrote "The Groundhog"? 

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Answer

"The Groundhog" was written by Richard Eberhart. 

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Question

When was "The Groundhog" published? 

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Answer

It was published in 1934. 

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What is wrong with the groundhog in the poem? 

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Answer

It is dead

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Question

When does the speaker first see the groundhog? 

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Answer

June

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What does the speaker notice about the groundhog's body? 

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Answer

It is decomposing and being eaten by maggots. 

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What is the tone of "The Groundhog"? 

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Answer

Mournful and solemn

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What are the themes in "The Groundhog"?

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Answer

The main themes in "The Groundhog" are the fragility of life and the certainty of death.

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Question

What does the speaker compare to a cauldron? 

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Answer

Maggots

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What happens to the groundhog at the end of the poem? 

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Answer

After three years there is nothing left of it. It completely disappears.

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What effect do the allusions at the end of the poem have? 

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Answer

They are all famous people who impacted the world but who have died. It shows that no matter who you are or what you do, death is inevitable. 

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