Eberhart, Richard (Vol. 11)
The Visionary Farms is a drame à thèse which owes a great deal to the expressionist tendencies of the early plays of Eugene O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, and Elmer Rice. It is not in any important sense original; it does not enlarge the range of dramatic art; but it provides an opportunity of examining an interesting alliance between modern dramatic verse and those non-representational procedures which have been developed in the theatre in such plays as The Hairy Ape. (p. 223)
The theme of The Visionary Farms is not "money" but the larger motive of "Progress," which Professor [Richard M.] Weaver has described as the "god term" of the present age…. It is probably the only term which gives the average American or West European a concept of something larger than himself, which he is socially impelled to accept, and for which he is ready to sacrifice.
The context of The Visionary Farms is largely determined by such considerations: its "scene" is a climate of feeling in which Progress is cultivated without restraint from any other values. (pp. 223-24)
If The Visionary Farms is a drame à thèse it is such with a difference, for Mr. Eberhart has not presented a realistic enactment of the ruin of a commercial empire in 1919. Rather, he has dramatised his impression of the inevitable conclusion of the cult of Progress. The play, technically related to America...
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[Richard Eberhart's] concern has steadily been with the incredibility of the actual. His war poems, lyrical in spite of their fierce concision, speak concretely and eloquently of the incongruousness of the concepts of man and of war. He writes with stunning impact of the mindless butchery, the small cruelties, and the greater horror as
The Earthquake Opens Abrupt the World,
Cold Dreadful Mass Destruction.
But in the midst of animal anguish and moral disaster he is alive to the dreamlike vision of anti-aircraft seen from a distance: "a controlled kind of falling stars," and he is not afraid to call attention to "the beautiful disrelation of the spiritual." (pp. 415-16)
Babette Deutsch, in her Poetry in Our Time (copyright © by Babette Deutsch; 1963 by Doubleday; reprinted by permission of Babette Deutsch), revised edition, Doubleday, 1963, pp. 415-16.
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What I first admire about The Quarry, reading it whole, is how totally it is Richard Eberhart's. No matter what my response to single poems, I read them all as being demonstrably Eberhart's in rhythm, diction, and risk. However native this integrity, it's more than a negative virtue in the world of programmatic poetry where Eberhart's skilled juniors too often write what read like interchangeable translations of some Imagist Eskimo. It's no wonder that the Programmatic Poets, currently bent on murdering whatever elders are tall enough for parricide, have neglected knifing Eberhart in his always vunerable back. The virtues of Eberhart's poems, like their flaws, are simply too individual to be imitated. The self-defined Beats, by Kenneth Rexroth's example, once flirted with sanctifying Eberhart, but for the wrong reasons: they saw him merely as the single "academic" who seemed handsomely careless of traditional forms. Since the once-New Criticism denies the very possibility of a naive (or non-ironic) poet, Eberhart has been as curiously immune from serious consideration as he has been exempt from attack. Given our existential modes of criticism, and those multitudes of poets so existentially influenced, there's been small room for reading a poet whose primary perceptions are religious. I have no idea as to what church Eberhart may possibly belong, but I am sure beyond doubt that he is fundamentally a religious poet, and that at his best his...
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M. L. Rosenthal
[Young Richard Eberhart] held a number of jobs connected with slaughterhouses and meat-packing, which may well have contributed to the death-obsession in his poetry, though there was a more crucial experience as well. A poem written in his late forties, "Fragment of New York, 1929," is a superb instance of the persistence of these early impressions. Certain reverses arising from a monumental embezzlement by the Hormel treasurer—the subject of Eberhart's play The Visionary Farms—all but ruined the family [his father was vice president of that company] when Dick was eighteen. At about the same time his mother died of lung cancer….
Richard seems to have been very close to his mother, and tended her during her terrible illness. The experience became a powerful element in his sensibility. It forced the relationship, and left the young man with a surfeit of death-horror, a vision of life's morbid depths against which his instinct for affirmation carried on a recurrent struggle for many years. See, for instance, "The Day-Bed," written several decades later. The images of "a bright shape, a green new dream" with which it ends can never quite overcome the tormenting memory that sets the poem going…. (p. 26)
[Joel H. Roache in his biography, The Progress of an American Poet,] suggests that Eberhart's career involves a shift from alienation to affirmation, and that it symbolizes, in general, the...
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[If one] cut away the puffed romantic locks [from Collected Poems 1930–1976] …, there would be almost nothing left. Too many self-congratulatory poems, in any case, on the superiority of being a poet—the reader feels like a bored voyeur. (p. 363)
The writing is almost never happy. Typically American in this, Eberhart struggled all his life for an individual manner, mixing gaucheness and gracefulness in an unstable, not quite convincing way. Consider again the celebrated last stanza of "Fury of Aerial Bombardment":
Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.
Was his true gift after all for the impersonality of these lines? How Latin, incidentally, their restrained sinuous rhetoric and ammoniac pungency. We might have had a Housman with contemporary grit; instead we have a vague son of Blake. (pp. 364-65)
Calvin Bedient, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1977 by The University of the South), Spring, 1977.
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Throughout his career Eberhart has written essentially two kinds of poem. One is the lyric that assigns symbolic values to images and explores the implications thus activated. In "New Hampshire, February," for example, two frozen wasps are brought indoors. As the speaker breathes on them, they come to life. They "withdraw to ice" again when he stops. He feels like God…. But one wasp blunders onto the kitchen floor and the speaker, equally by accident, steps on it:
And so the other is still my pet.
The moral of this is plain.
But I will shirk it.
You will not like it. And
God does not live to explain….
Usually the success of such poems lies more in the imaginative materials than in the performance the poem makes. But at his best Eberhart's imagination freshly expresses the difficult complexity of the human situation in general. In general—for even when his metaphors or symbols are concrete, the object of concern is not. His subject, in other words, is less some particular instance or embodiment of life, agony, death, art, love, joy, God, and so forth, than the abstraction itself. And in many poems, such as "Meditation Two" or "Sanders Theater," even the ghost of a dramatic occasion has vanished, and there is...
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