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Robert Fitzgerald


Robert Fitzgerald was born on October 12, 1910, in Geneva, New York, but grew up in Springfield, Illinois. His early life was marked by significant loss—his mother died when he was three years old, his only sibling five years later, and his father died when Fitzgerald was seventeen. Despite this hardship, he excelled academically, graduating from Springfield High School in 1928 and then attending The Choate School in Connecticut for a year. In 1929 he entered Harvard University in Boston, where he studied English and Greek.

In 1931, his early poems were published in Poetry magazine. After receiving his BA from Harvard in 1933, he moved to New York City and became a journalist working for the New York Herald Tribune as a reporter until 1935 and then at Time magazine from 1936 to 1949. He published his debut poetry collection, Poems (Arrow Editions), in 1935, followed by A Wreath for the Sea (New Directions) in 1943. During World War II, Fitzgerald served in the United States Navy in Guam and Pearl Harbor.

After the war ended, Fitzgerald returned to New York City where he began teaching English at Sarah Lawrence College. He later taught at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Washington, Mount Holyoke College, and Princeton University. He also served as poetry editor of the New Republic.

Along with being known as a lyric poet, Fitzgerald is highly regarded for his translations, including his verse translations of Homer's The Iliad (Doubleday, 1974), which received the first Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1976, and The Odyssey (Doubleday, 1961), which received the first Bollingen Award for Translation. His other translations include Virgil’s The Aeneid (Random House, 1983), as well as Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (Harcourt, 1949) and Euripides’s The Alcestis (Harcourt, 1936), both co-translated by Dudley Fitts.

From 1965 and 1981, Fitzgerald served as Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard University, succeeding former Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish. During his tenure, his teaching, especially of English metrics, influenced many young poets, some of whom went on to become known as the New Formalists. Fitzgerald served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1968 to 1985. From 1984 to 1985 Fitzgerald was consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. His other honors include the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Fitzgerald died on January 16, 1985, in Hamden, Connecticut.

Selected Bibliography


Spring Shade: Poems, 1931-1970 (New Directions, 1971)
In the Rose of Time: Poems, 1939-1956 (New Directions, 1956)
A Wreath for the Sea (New Directions, 1943)
Poems (Arrow Editions, 1935)


The Aeneid by Virgil (Random House, 1983)
The Iliad by Homer (Doubleday, 1974)
The Odyssey by Homer (Doubleday, 1961)
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, with Dudley Fitts (Harcourt, 1949)
The Alcestis by Euripides, with Dudley Fitts (Harcourt, 1936)

Robert Fitzgerald
Photo credit: Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

By This Poet


Souls Lake

The evergreen shadow and the pale magnolia
Stripping slowly to the air of May
Stood still in the night of honey trees,
At rest above a star pool with my friends,
Beside the grove most fit for elegies
I made my phrase to out-enchant the night.

The epithalamion, the hush were due,
For I had fasted and gone blind to see
What night must be beyond our passages;
Those stars so chevalier in fearful heaven
Could not but lay their steel aside and come
With a grave glitter into my low room.

Vague though the population of the earth
Lay stretched and dry below the cypresses,
It was not round-about but in my night,
Bone of my bone, as an old man might say;
And all its stone weighed my mortality;
The pool would be my body and my eyes,

The air my garment and material
Whereof that wateriness and mirror lived—
The colorable, meek and limpid world.
Though I had sworn my element alien
To the pure mind of night, the cold princes,
Behold them there, and both worlds were the same.

The hearts' planet seemed not so lonely then,
Seeing what kin it found in that reclining.
And ah, though sweet the catch of your chorales,
I heard no singing there among my friends;
But still the great waves, the lions shining,
And infinite still the discourse of the night.

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