Robert Fitzgerald

Poet, translator, critic, journalist, memoirist, scholar -- the late Robert Fitzgerald (1910-1985) had an unusual range of gifts and lived a strikingly varied life in the literary and academic world. 

Born to Irish-Catholic parents who had met while performing in a touring morality play called The Sign of the Cross, and although he was not an actor in the narrow sense, this theatrical heritage did manifest itself in his life.  He lost his mother at five, his only sibling at seven, and his father at seventeen.  His Grandparents and various Uncles had shared responsibility for the care of his invalid father and himself. An unusually able and all-around student, he graduated from Springfield High School in 1928 with the highest ranking of any boy in his class, as the quarterback of the football team, and his poetic gifts the admiration, first of Vachel Lindsay, Springfields native poet and later of T. S. Eliot. 

Before begining his freshmen year at Yale he spent a year at Choate.  There he met Dudley Fitts, the classical scholar and man of letters who was to become his first intellectual mentor and his collabotator in a number of translations and whose influence and example changed his course from Yale to Harvard.

In his student days at Harvard, he learned Greek, studied with Babbett, Milman Parry (whose research is the basis for Albert B. Lord’s seminal book The Singer of Tales), and Whitehead.  He took the lead role in the Philoctetes, won the Bolyston Contest for Elocution and gave the Latin commencement oration.  The Depression cut short his plans to get a degree in Law.

A reporter for the New York Herald Tribune in the thirties Fitzgerald also spent time before and after the Second World War (Durring which he was in the U. S. Navy.  He spent the closing days of the war on Guam on the staff of CINCPAC) as a part of Henry Luce’s literary stable at Time, where he forged his close friendship with James Agee and edited the Books Department for the magazine.  His friendship with Agee and also with Flannery O’Connor as well as with other literary figures such as John Berryman, Allen Tate, and Caroline Gordon flourished during this period. 

In the early fifties he moved with his family to Italy where he worked for six years on his celebrated translation of the Odyssey.  His other classical translations -- the Iliad, the Aeneid, and his translations of Euripides and Sophocles, several done in collaboration with Dudley Fitts -- have become the signal translations of our time. 

A renowned teacher as well as poet and scholar, Fitzgerald taught, over the years, at such institutions as Sarah Lawrence, Princeton, The New School, Mount Holyoke, and The University of Washington.  His career culminated at Harvard where, in 1965, he was named Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory.  For fifteen years his course in Versification influenced a generation of young poets, and his seminar in “Homer, Virgil, and Dante” a generation of young scholars.

 

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