Robert Fitzgerald

Robert Fitzgerald Biography

Robert Fitzgerald was a 20th century American poet, university professor and literary critic who also worked for a number of years as both a newspaper and magazine journalist.  He made a considerable name for himself as a translator of classic Greek and Latin works and these became a source of standard reference for students for a number of generations afterwards.

He was born Robert Stuart Fitzgerald on the 12th October 1910 in Springfield, Illinois.  He went to school at Wallingford, Connecticut and did well enough to earn a place at Harvard University.  He soon showed an aptitude for writing poetry and he had some of his work published in the Poetry magazine in 1931.  It was at Harvard that he first got a taste for the Classics and, after graduating, he took on a lot of translation work just to keep his hand in.  His work was published and his reputation soon grew as an expert in the field.  He graduated from Harvard after two years of study and found a position on the staff of the New York Herald Tribune, a job which lasted for about a year.  Later on he worked for Time magazine.

In his early thirties he saw wartime service with the US Navy in both Pearl Harbour and Guam and, following this, he entered the world of academia, firstly at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and then at Princeton University.  His university life ended at Harvard when he retired in 1981 from the post of Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position that he had held from 1965.

Honours and awards came his way including the Chancellorship of the Academy of American Poets.  In 1961 his stellar work as a Greek classics translator earned him the prestigious Bollingen Award when he produced a verse translation of Homer“s Odyssey.  The most prestigious honour though would have been to serve as the country’s Poet Laureate between 1984-85 but, unfortunately, he was too ill to fulfil the appointment.

He is perhaps best known for his translation work but he did produce poetry titles such as his Spring Shade: Poems 1931-1970 which was clearly a collection of his own work.  He also edited the work of other poets, an example being a 1969 publication called
Here is one of his own poems, titled Night Images.  It is an evocative description of the fears, and sometimes terrors, that many of us have experienced when lying in a lonely bed, listening to the window panes rattling and the creaks and sighs of the house around us.
Critics have suggested that Fitzgerald leaned on his classical influences when writing poems such as Song after Campion which he somehow managed to merge with the English Renaissance verse tradition.  The result has often been described as “pristine lyrical poetry”.

Robert Fitzgerald died on the 16th January 1985 at his home in Hamden, Connecticut after suffering from a long period of illness.  He was 74 years old and had been married three times.