United States Poet Laureate Richard Ghormley Eberhart was born and raised on a farm outside a small town in southeast Minnesota. The bucolic setting frequently was invoked later in his poetry. His father was a prosperous businessman and the young Eberhart grew up relatively carefree. He graduated high school in 1921 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. The following year he experienced a family tragedy. His mother died of cancer. Unlike a number of other poets of note who were affected by early personal difficulty and tragedy, Eberhart freely admitted that he attributed his decision to become a poet to the grief he suffered at the loss of his mother.
More difficulty followed when his father lost nearly all his money when an employee embezzled more than one million dollars from the business. Perhaps as an attempt to remove himself entirely from so much loss, Eberhart left the University of Minnesota and enrolled at Dartmouth College, where he earned a Bachelor's of Arts in 1926. Like so many graduates with degrees in the humanities, he struggled to find a way to apply his writing to work for pay. For a while he worked in a department store and as an advertising copy writer. Finally, he accepted a position as a deck hand on a steamer going around the world. Frustrated with a captain he described as "tyrannical," he jumped ship at Port Said, and found his way to England and then to Cambridge University, where he earned a second B.A.
Eberhart clearly was interested in far flung places and cultures that were new to him. In 1930 he received an offer to return to the United States and work as a tutor to the son of King Prajadhipok of Siam, who was in New York for surgery. Next, Eberhart enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard, and then returned to Cambridge University, where he received a Master of Arts degree. He decided to teach at the secondary level, and taught English at St. Mark's School from 1933 to 1941.
He enlisted at the start of World War II and served as an aerial gunnery officer. Upon his return from the war he published his first poetry collection, Burr Oaks, followed by Brotherhood of Men. He became assistant manager at a company owned by his wife, the Butcher Polish Company. He worked in that capacity for six years, finally deciding to return to academia. In 1956 he accepted a position of professor of English and poet-in-residence at Dartmouth University, where he remained until his death in 2005. At Dartmouth, he was known for his mentoring skills, shepherding young poets as they learned to develop their own style and at the same time navigate the treacherous waters of literary criticism. He published more than a dozen books of poetry during his career.
He was the recipient of the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his work, Selected Poems: 1930-1965. He also received a National Book Award for Collected Poems: 1930-1965, in 1977. He was appointed as a member of the Advisory Committee on the Arts for the National Cultural Centre by President Dwight Eisenhower, and then appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for 1959-61. He was also the recipient of a Bollingen Prize in 1962.