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A Review of "The Achievement of Richard Eberhart"

I can't seem to stop writing poetry or reading poetry. I think it is safe to say I love poetry and I love sharing great poetry with others.

Richard Eberhart

Richard Eberhart

A Review of "The Achievement of Richard Eberhart: A comprehensive selection of his poems with critical introduction"

Bernard F. Engel, in 1968, published "The Achievement of Richard Eberhart: A comprehensive selection of his poems with a critical introduction," by Scott, Foresman, and Company, Glenview, Illinois.

I was struck by the poetry Eberhart had to offer and the essay by Engel. I felt like I was being introduced to a true American Story. A story of searching for and finding a meaning in America as an American Poet.

Richard Eberhart was born in Austin Minnesota on April 5th, 1904. He was raised in Minnesota and attended University, to finish without a degree from Dartmouth in 1926.

He found himself a deckhand on a steamer in the pacific. After fighting off a tyrannical captain, in Joseph Conrad style, he jumped boat at Port Sand. He then finished his B.A. at Cambridge in 1929.

He has written that his years at Cambridge are the years that he "came into his own" as a poet and ended up tutoring the son of the King of Siam. The Son of the King of Siam! An interesting turn of events. Richard's life imitating one of America's greatest outlets, the American musical. As American as apple pie.

He started graduate school at Harvard shortly after his tutoring experience. He did not finish a degree but took up teaching at St. Marks instead.

Rumor goes that he taught Robert Lowell in one of the classrooms of St. Marks and then took the next path in an American Life; to raise a family.

He married Helen Elizabeth Butcher and they had two children.

After Pearl Harbor he volunteered for Navy duty. He was a commissioned aerial gunnery instructor during the World War II years.

After the war he found the Butcher Polish Company and felt his business was bringing him closer to the heart of America. He fancied himself another Wallace Stevens. He saw himself as the American Businessman Poet.

He was the first president of "The Poets Theatre" of Cambridge. He taught at the University of Washington, the University of Connecticut, Wheaton, Princeton, and secured a residency at Dartmouth.

In his later years he served as the consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress and in 1966 won the Pulitzer Prize.

An American Life worth living and a testament of our freedom to succeed.


On A Squirrel Crossing the Road in Autumn, In New England

It is what he does not know,

Crossing the road under the elm trees,

About the mechanism of my car,

About the commonwealth of Massachusetts,

About Mozart, India, Arcturus,

That wins my praise. I engage

at once in whirling squirrel-praise.

He obeys the order of nature

without knowing them.

It is what he does not know

that makes him beautiful.

Such a knot of little purposeful nature!

I who can see him as he cannot see himself

Repose in the ignorance that is his blessing.

It is what man does not know of God

Composes the visible poem of the world

....just missed him!

A Look at "On A Squirrel Crossing the Road In Autumn, In New England."

"Eberhart stresses with Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams belief in the importance of the experienced and objects of life in the phenomenal world and perhaps consequently the need for precision in expression." From the Introduction to "The Achievement of Richard Eberhart."

"On A Squirrel Crossing the Road in Autumn, In New England" is an examination of how information and knowledge is only a small part of what makes us whole. A squirrel arrives into the narrators line of vision and the narrator immediately considers the question "What do squirrels know?"

Eberhart is using the squirrel as an object of contemplation, a part of reality that requires deeper examination; the importance of the object. He uses the object of the squirrel to discuss how our ability to reason with knowledge and our ability to share information does not compete with our place in nature but only shadows the truth of our relationship within.

Throughout the book Eberhart's poetry begins with an examination of an object. He talks about our existence in contrast to object he describes. "On A Squirrel..." is a perfect example of how Eberhart composes his poems.

The narrator stops and stands in awe at the simplicity of the squirrel. He wrestles with the squirrel's ability to understand nature and for a brief moment sees within the squirrel a part of a higher order. He then ends the poem with "...Just missed him!" This perfect close shows how people may have glimpses of the infinite everyday but choose to forget in the mire of modern existence.

"Knowledge is power," is a mantra first introduced by Machiavelli's "The Prince" and reintroduced by George Orwell in his novel "1984." People have followed this mantra like divine instruction and have attempted to learn as much as they can about the world we live.

Eberhart contrasts the narrator, who opens the poem with a list of things he/she knows, to what the squirrel knows. This list, in the beginning of the poem, removes the narrator from the world of squirrel and places the narrator on a pedestal of knowledge above the squirrel as it goes about its daily business.

The truth that seems to slip from the narrators fingers is that the squirrels relationship with nature has nothing to do with its knowledge base. There is another relationship that needs to be examined. A relationship that makes all living things equal without a desire to obtain power.

Or as Eberhart states so clearly "It is what man does not know of God..."

"The Groundhog" and an attempt at imitation

Richard Eberhart's "The Groundhog" objectifies the corpse of a Groundhog to open a discussion with readers about mortality and death.

The poem seems to flow in a natural order. The finding of the Groundhog is the time in our lives when the idea of death becomes reality, like a death in the family or a friend.

Second we find the narrator contemplating what death is based on his recognition of the Groundhog. After death has become a reality in our lives we then examine what death is to us. What are our belief structures? What does it mean to us culturally?

The narrator then goes through the different emotions one feels when faced with death. The narrator goes through the different stages of acceptance of death and realizes towards the end of the poem how beautiful death is as part of the larger drama of nature.

Finally the narrator walks away and tries to forget. He cannot forget and returns to the Groundhog at a later date where he notices that the Groundhog no longer exists. It is at this point that all revelations made by the narrator are lost in denial and he moves back into his life as if nothing happened.

I decided to imitate this poem for Poetry Month 2017 by writing "The Dead Wild Horse."

Imitation is not plagiarism. Imitation is a chance to study how the poet uses rhythm, meter, and rhyme to strengthen the theme. It is a tool that answers a few of the questions that a good poem presents. It is extremely illuminating and the poem created through the imitation, whether successful or not, creates its own space and drama.


In Conclusion

"-Eberhart assumes a necessity to recognize earthly truths. When he attains a vision he come to it at least partly through an experience or object accessible to his senses. He 'rejects the idea of a pure or ideal poetry, of a special realm of experience accessible only to the mystic bard." From the Introduction to "The Achievement of Richard Eberhart."

When did Richard Eberhart find his poetry?

When he fought off a tyrannical captain in Joseph Conrad style? When he tutored the son of the King of Siam?

Did he find his place among American Poetry, like Wallace Stevens, when he found H the Butcher Polish Company?

By the time he was the president of "The Poets Theatre" of Cambridge he had come into his style and skill. He had come into his own when he taught at the University of Washington, the University of Connecticut, Wheaton, Princeton, and secured a residency at Dartmouth.

He was an American Poet to remember by the time he served as consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress and in 1966 when he won the Pulitzer Prize.

I feel it is stating a truth to state he lived an American Life worth living and became a testament of our freedom to succeed.

© 2018 Jamie Lee Hamann


Verlie Burroughs from Canada on April 02, 2018:

Brilliant Jamie, I learned so much in this Richard Eberhart piece. Nice to see your thoughts on his writing.

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on April 02, 2018:

Thank you Ann. This was a fun hub. Jamie

Ann Carr from SW England on April 02, 2018:

Love the squirrel poem, especially the 'back to reality' ending!

Thanks for telling us about this poet, Jamie.


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