In his poems, Richard Eberhart returned again and again to the theme of death: death-in-life and life-in-death. His poems are, at once, a stay against oblivion and a bid for immortality. In his essay “Poetry as a Creative Principle” (in Of Poetry and Poets), Eberhart claimed that poetry is “a spell against death.” As long as the essence of one’s life exists in one’s recorded work, there is immortality.
A Bravery of Earth, Eberhart’s first published work, is a long philosophical and autobiographical narrative that establishes the dichotomy between the push toward life, harmony, and order and the corresponding horrors that are a constant pull toward the grave.
“The Groundhog,” perhaps Eberhart’s most anthologized and acclaimed poem, is the epitome of the duality that characterizes his verse. The poem serves as a kind of memento mori that unites all living creatures in their temporality. Focusing on a dead groundhog, it develops the paradox of life-in-death. The poem additionally expresses the poet’s belief that poetry is a gift of the gods—a mystical power that is relative, never absolute.
“The Groundhog” is one of four or five poems that Eberhart claimed were given to him. In a 1982 interview printed in Negative Capability, he described this mystical experience. These “given poems,” Eberhart stated, came from “far beyond or underneath...
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