Richard Eberhart is one of the least easily classified of modern poets. The directness of his statements and forcefulness of his language prevent his being within the realm of the moderns who remain aloof and intricate. His moralistic tendency to explain his allegories removes him from the sophisticated circles of understatement. As many critics have pointed out, Eberhart is a Romantic in an age of anti-Romanticism. He is also a quasi-mystic. He calls himself a relativist, a modern dualist. As a result of his two-sides-to-every-issue stand, much of his poetry seems contradictory; the “truth” of one he denies in another. His almost militantly individualistic use of language has been compared to D. H. Lawrence’s. Finally, his philosophic poetry deals with everyday questions which are dramatized in everyday experiences. Thus his “metaphysical” poetry concerns not the heavenly, but the mundane. Yet it is exactly his romantic impulses, his Whitmanesque egocentricity, his apparent inconsistencies, his idiosyncratic language, and the realm from which he draws his poetry which make it difficult to read him without becoming involved.
Eberhart’s major theme is death, which he explores both as an active man and as an intellectual. The irreconcilable duality between action and intellect has long been a concern of poets; Eberhart’s concern in, for example, “In a Hard Intellectual Light,” is neither revolutionary nor overwhelmingly modern in a scientific age.
One of Eberhart’s first answers for the active man who seeks escape from mechanization is in nature. Hence much of his poetry, especially relatively early work, is easily Romantic, as is his deification of the age of innocence recorded in “Recollections of Childhood.” Loss of innocence comes, however, with the knowledge of death, and even his most fervently Romantic poems do not escape a persistent questioning about when death will come. Romanticism deserts him completely when he sees man in “Maze.” To transcend reality as seen in this poem, Eberhart creates visionary states close to the mystical. The reality which he questions...
(The entire section is 867 words.)