April is National Poetry Month, though at Harvard every month could be. The University’s poetic legacy dates back hundreds of years and has helped shape the world’s literary canon. E.E. Cummings, John Ashbery, and Wallace Stevens are among the University’s well-known poetic alumni, while Maxine Kumin and Adrienne Rich attended Radcliffe.
Today, contemporary poets like Kevin Young ’92 and Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy K. Smith ’94 are building on the tradition before them, and who knows how many poets-in-waiting are in Harvard’s classes right now, verses just simmering.
Lauded poet Jorie Graham serves as Harvard’s Boylston Professor, and the University’s literati also include poet and critic Stephen Burt and literary critic Helen Vendler, to name only a few. But poets are found outside of the English Department, too, as with the Medical School’s Rafael Campo — an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the author of several award-winning collections of poetry.
The Gazette invites you to explore Harvard by foot and ear. This walking tour of campus can be completed in a lunch hour or less, and pairs classic Harvard landmarks with a sampling of the poets connected to the University. Using recordings housed at the Woodberry Poetry Room as well as new recordings, the tour also commemorates the April 13 birth of Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize winner and Harvard’s one-time Boylston Professor and poet-in-residence. Heaney died on Aug. 30, 2013, but his mark on Harvard is indelible.
— Sarah Sweeney
To download a printable pdf of the map, click here.
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 1
Welcome to the Harvard Poetry Walking Tour. This tour will lead you through campus by foot and ear, pairing classic Harvard landmarks with just a sampling of poets connected to the University. To begin this tour, you should be standing in the Old Yard, which is home to most freshman dormitories. Now listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard alumna Tracy K. Smith read her poem “The Universe as Primal Scream.”
John Harvard Statue
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 2
You’re now at the John Harvard Statue. Here is Harvard junior Dylan Perese reading Harvard alumna Jane Yeh’s poem “Case Study: Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
Science Center Plaza
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 3
In front of the Science Center rocks, hear Sylvia Plath recite “Child’s Park Stones,” which she recorded on June 13, 1958, at Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room.
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 4
Annenberg Hall, located in the basement of Memorial Hall, serves as the dining facility for first-year students. Harvard University Dining Services serves approximately 3,400 meals here each day. Listen to T.S. Eliot’s “Morning at the Window,” which was recorded in Sanders Theatre on May 13, 1947, as a Morris Gray poetry reading.
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 5
Memorial Hall honors the sacrifices Harvard men made in defense of the Union during the American Civil War. Hear A. Kingsley Porter University Professor Helen Vendler give a brief explanation before reading Wallace Stevens’ poem “Puella Parvula.”
Sever Hall Courtyard
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 6
In the Sever Hall courtyard, pick a tree, any tree, and listen to Adrienne Rich read her poem “The Trees,” which she recorded at the Woodberry Poetry Room on May 10, 1961.
The Memorial Church
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 7
At Memorial Church, hear poet Frannie Lindsay, graduate coordinator in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, read ee cummings’ “i am a little church(no great cathedral).”
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 8
Facing Tercentenary Theatre, where Commencement is held outdoors every year, listen to the late Seamus Heaney read “Villanelle for an Anniversary,” which he composed in honor of Harvard’s 350th anniversary.
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 9
At Widener Library, listen to Radcliffe Fellow Henri Cole reading his poem “Harvard Classics.”
Woodberry Poetry Room
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 10
Outside of Lamont Library, which houses the Woodberry Poetry Room, listen to Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature Elisa New read one of alumnus Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems.”
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 11
Lowell House is home of the Lowell House bell tower, and where Robert Lowell once lived. The House itself is named after former Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, an ancestor of the poet. While living in the House, Lowell caused a scandal by dating an older woman named Anne Dick, of whom his parents disapproved; so much so, in fact, that they wrote Dick’s parents forbidding her from visiting their son’s dorm room “without proper chaperonage.” Hear Professor of English and poet Stephen Burt read Lowell’s poem about this incident.
Harvard Poetry Walking Tour: Stop 12
After reaching the Weld Boathouse on the Charles River, hear physician, poet, and Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Rafael Campo read his poem “Song in the Off Season.”
American artist Winslow Homer’s evocative oil painting “Summer Night,” depicting a scene along the Maine coast, is on loan to the Harvard Art Museums from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The local museums’ director Martha Tedeschi, a Homer scholar, discussed the artist and his work.