MN poetry: Richard Eberhart’s “21st Century Man”

Richard Eberhart was born in Austin, MN in 1904 and lived for 101 years. During that time he held many jobs but he was first and foremost a poet, serving as the Library of Congress' "Consultant in Poetry" (the earlier title for National Poet Laureate) from 1959-61.

Perhaps it was his mother's early death that gave him such a zest for life; he attended the University of Minnesota to be with her until she died, then transferred to Dartmouth. after graduating from Dartmouth he traveled the world - working on a tramp steamer - and pursued a second degree at Cambridge University. He served as a naval officer in World War II, worked for his wife's family at the Butcher Polish Company for several years, and taught at a number of universities, including his alma mater. He died in 2005 at his home in New Hampshire.

21st Century Man

Finally, he decided there was too much pain,

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The hurt of everything.

In youth it was not knowing,

In middle age it was knowing,

In age it was not knowing.

He couldn't figure it out.

Would 21st century man do better

Or 21st century woman do better either?

The tides were always going in or out,

But what was the meaning of the ocean?

People were either growing up or growing down.

He decided to live for sensual reality,

Pure feeling. After this failed

He decided to espouse pure intelligence.

This never told him why he had to die.

He then decided to go to the Church

But after the supreme fiction of Christ

He thought Buddha and Mohamet had something to say.

Neither sense, intellect, nor religion

Told him why he was born or had to die

So he began to pay attention to poetry.

Non-suicidal, he desired to make something.

He decided the greatest thing was a perfect poem.

If he could make it he would be glad to live.

The brutal fact, dear reader, as you

Might suspect, is that he did not make it.

Somebody else made his perfect poem imperfect.

- "21st Century Man" by Richard Eberhart, as it appears in The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, and published by W.W. Norton. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.