BLOG & INTERVIEWS

REMEMBERING RICHARD EBERHART

April 6, 2016:  In Memoriam – from a RICHARD EBERHART SYMPOSIUM – a special issue of Negative Capability from 1986.  Special essays, commentary, and poems in this issue include work by:  Michael Benedikt, John Ciardi, Leo Connellan, Stephen Corey,  Robert Creeley, Daniel Hoffman, Denise Levertov, Cleopatra Mathis, Ned O’Gorman, Vivian Shipley, May Swenson, Diane Wakoski, Robert Penn Warren as well as poems by Eberhart himself.  Only a few copies of this issue of Negative Capability are available.  It contains not only poems by Eberhart himself, but memorable essays.  If you would like a copy, contact suebrannanwalker@me.com.

LAOCOON

Richard Eberhart

Evil is such a great structure you can’t surround it,

Can’t controvert it, can’t say it is not there,

An implacable essence in the middle of the road,

A block to the vision, static, holds off encounter,

You do not have any idea that you can overcome it

By intelligence, design, purpose, or practice,

It is a fact of nature in day and in night, whether

You are well or ill, old, or young, favored or unfavored.

 

You have to carry on as if it were not there,

You cannot afford to be obsessed with its importance,

You have to ignore it, an agile thing to do,

To carry on your life in evenness, with even value,

You have to pretend that evil is not there, will not

Ruin you, does not live only for your destruction

If you want to do what you want to do with the day.

 

What you would want to do would be to be

The building sculptor with a marble theme, inflict man

With a massive, binding, twining serpent surrounding him

And show man with all his musculature, face

Clenched, holding off the serpent as if forever,

The conflict unresolved by fixation in sculpture,

Life going on for man and snake in enmity.

 

A FEW REFLECTIONS on MEETING EBERHART by Sue Walker

It was spring in Gainesville, Florida. I had heard that Eberhart was teaching a course

entitled “Eberhart on Eberhart” at the University of Florida.  I wrote that I would like

to publish a special issue of “Negative Capability” – a festschrift – or symposium issue

devoted to him and his work.  He invited my husband and me to lunch.  Betty served a salmon loaf while commenting with appreciation on Dick’s slight moustache.

 

After lunch they suggested that we tour around Gainesville and visit Lake Alice. Every small think was remarkable – the varying color of the ducks on the water, the shades of spring green – lawn and grass, weeping willow and the dogwoods bursting into bloom. The month was April. We visited Micanopy Cemetery – and Dick got out of the car and read his poems amid the azaleas.  It was a breathtaking, memorable occasion; I wrote this poem.

 

MICANOPY CEMETERY

(For Richard Eberhart)

 

Even as I speak, this moment

moves beyond itself

and is gone.

The watch on my wrist marks

the hour but fails to hold it still.

 

Driving down the long row

of azaleas that line the road

into Micanopy cemetery

when flowers, April ripe,

blaze their crimson bloom,

I would keep these happy boughs,

this flowery afternoon –

an ode on a Florida urn.

 

Such joy moves

beyond time into spirit –

until a poem that never sheds

its vellum leaves

or bids the Spring adieu

keeps these gray stones teeming

with life as you read

poems beneath an arch of blossoms

forever brilliant, rosy, fair.

 

So alive standing at grave-head, you say

you do not know if your ashes

should hallow this ground so far from Austin

or if homeland should someday claim your mortal part;

Should your bones and those of William James

share common ground?

 

Earth will not contain you,

Richard Eberhart.

Your spirit is forever –

in a horse chestnut tree,

a groundhog alive with maggots,

in a squirrel crossing the road.

 

I thought the morning, the lunch, the afternoon was more time than I ever expected to spend with Richard Eberhart, but in the later afternoon. He said, “go back to your hotel and freshen up, come back, and we’ll go to dinner.” 

 

After that, we returned to the apartment where the Eberharts were spending the spring semester – and talked and talked late into the night.

 

“Where did you begin teaching poetry,” I asked.

 

“Let’s see,” Eberhart replies.  “I began teaching poetry at St. Mark’s School. Yes, I was a graduate student at Harvard thinking that I ought to have a Ph.D., but it was in the depths of the Depression, and everybody’s father had lost his fortune and was selling apples on the sidewalk. So I didn’t continue. I had a Dartmouth B.A. and a Cambridge B.A. and M.A., and I was at Harvard and had every intention of getting a Ph.D. and spending about three years at it, but I would have had to borrow money, so I put in for a teaching post. There was only one teaching post open at Harvard Services then, and 25 people applied for the job. But I got it and felt very good about that. So I was saved for the rest of the Depression, and I lived at St. Mark’s School, a very plush place which I enjoyed ever so much. I guess I lived there like an ostrich with his head in the sand for the rest of the Depression.

 

“When did Auden come to St. Marks?” I asked.

 

“He came in 1937. I was there from 1932-40 – or 1941, and I got him to come because I had known his work for years, and I knew about his group in England—Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis, and MacNeice. I knew those four names and their work very well, and I heard Auden was coming over to this country so I asked my headmaster Francis Parkman if we could have a British poet up for a while to teach the boys. I told him that Auden was one of the bests poets in England at the time though not too many Americans knew about him, and ‘Torch’ Parkman—as we affectionately called him, who was very tall, severe, bald, and had a splendid wife and five or six children, said ‘Sure. Get him to come.’ So we had Auden for 30-40 days, and St. Marks was the first position for which he was paid in this country. It was a mighty interesting time to have him there.”

 

The discussion about Auden continued—and Eberhart added that Auden “invented a certain thing I never forgot. He would take a great poem, say some 18th or 19th century poem, and he would take all the adjectives out of it. Then he would give this poem to a class of boys who were 16 years old or 18 – and ask them to supply the adjectives from their own minds. This was an interesting teaching device because he wanted them to see how much imagination they had. He gave them Thomas Gray’s famous poem, and as a matter of fact, hardly any student hit on the exact words the poet used though they came pretty close.”

 

There is more about Auden in the interview. In fact there is much more about Eberhart in this collection – especially Eberhart’s essays – especially “The Real And The Unreal.”

 

“ . . . what is the meaning of memory?”

 

Here, let me add an aside.  Eberhart’s birthday was April 5 – and Sue Walker’s is April 6.  Somehow we discussed how close our birthdays were.  He laughed – and said can you imagine what fun our parents were having around the 4th of July?”

 

 What what is poetry, Eberhart asked. “Why is it so deeply ingrained in mankind? And why is it one of the sources of poetry?”

 

And this time with Eberhard, this collection, is memory – or as Robert Creeley said of Eberhard:

            the so-called real,

            the unequivocal—

            this world.

 

Sue Walker