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Richard Eberhart

Silhouette

By Elizabeth P. Nadas

RICHARD EBERHART is straight. There is no hint of absinthe on this poet's breath, no bitter edge to his voice, or evidence of spleen in his demeanor.

As he settled onto the foam couch in the Winthrop House Senior Common Room, he whipped out a four-page mimeographed pamhplet entitled "Notes on Poetry."

"You won't have to ask me much," he said proudly. "I think I'll just read this to you out loud." The paper, to which he referred from time to time, dealt with the position of the poet in society, particularly with regard to the Vietnam War.

"If I were a young man today, faced with the unjust war we are in, I would not subscribe to it. I would join the Peace Corps, not the war corps," he read. "Now here's one that I think is pretty nice. 'Poetry is a seizure....' I don't think I've ever heard poetry described that way, have you? 'Poetry is a seizure in which instead of being unconscious for a while one is super-conscious.""

At the end of the pamphlet is a rare example of a political poem by Eberhart. The first stanza reads:

The poet against society: stay away from him.

He sees but cannot help: passionate disability

Allows him to do nothing about human error.

He broods upon the consequences of action.

Yet he himself exudes none of the brooding character or the "passionate disability" of which he writes. "Of course I'm a member of the Establishment,' 'he says. "What do you expect? I'm a professor at Dartmouth; I'm a member of the National Institutes of Arts and Letters, and I'm very proud of it."

Asked about the development of his career as a poet, Mr. Eberhart pointed to his high school years in Austin, Minnesota. "I could write hundreds of poems with the greatest of ease, I also excelled in five sports at once, was captain of the baseball and football teams."

"After I graduated from Dartmouth I went to Cambridge. At Cambridge was the great illumination, I got to know I. A. Richards, and a highly active group of poets including William Ibsen, Kathleen Paine, and T. H. White."

Eberhart's manner is thoroughly boyish, eager, self-confident. He makes no attempt to suppress his enthusiasm or the pleasure with which he remembers all the "adventures" he has had.

"I had lots of adventures," he says. "I worked on a tramp freighter. You didn't have to worry about being stabbed in the back by a Chinese Communist in those days. So I went all the way around the world."

After his trip around the world Eberhart came to Harvard in 1932, which he described earlier as "a real letdown. They were only interested in mechanics. At Cambridge they were interested in the state of being, in the soul," he said. "I came to Harvard thinking that if I got a Ph.D. I'd have it made. I had everything else, really. But when the depression came I had to give it up."

Eberhart went to teach at St. Mark's where Robert Lowell became his student, and then, after the war, worked in his father-in-law's wax factory while he wrote and helped to organize the original Poet's Theatre.

"Those were the good old days. But my poetry found me out. I got a call, and I had to go." After teaching at various colleges including Wheaton and Princeton, Eberhart returned to Dartmouth where he was given an honorary degree. He is proud of the honors he has received, the clubs he belongs to, and his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy. He is natural, almost naive as he talks about his facility in poetry. "The creative urge is so strong in me that I write all the time. The problem is to shape all this into something viable. I am absolutely undisciplined. I write only when the spirit moves me. I'm one of the old fashioned people that depends on inspiration. I wrote my best poems in the white heat of realization and didn't change more than a few words."

"And I haven't dried up. I haven't stopped. I think I'm writing my best stuff. I think the book that's coming out is going to be the best one of all."

"I'm one of the few poets called Christian, though I'm not a very good one. I believe in nature. I believe in God. I believe in the ultimate mysteries."

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