Poet and English professor John Hollander often has referred to retirement in jest, but this time he’s not joking.
After serving the Yale community for more than three decades, Hollander will retire at the end of this academic year.
“There’s no particular reason,” Hollander said. “I guess I could keep going until I drop, but I just felt this might be a good time to stop.”
Hollander added that he has not ruled out the possibility of returning to teach as an professor emeritus.
One of the most eminent poets of the last century, Hollander has published dozens of poetry books and critical works, including “The Work of Poetry,” “Visions from the Ramble,” and “Reflections of Espionage.”
Hollander first began teaching at Yale in 1959, but left for the City University of New York in 1966. He returned to Yale in 1977 after visiting his daughter as an undergraduate.
“She was loving it so much,” Hollander said. “And when I came to visit her, I found that her fellow students were wonderful, and I wanted the chance to teach them.”
He has remained at Yale ever since.
Although his teaching duties will end this May, Hollander said he will continue writing. Currently, Hollander is working on a book of literary criticism based on a series of lectures he gave at the University of Cambridge in England. He is also finishing up a new book of essays on music and poetry.
English Department chairwoman Ruth Yeazell said the department will sorely miss Hollander’s expertise and versatility.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” Yeazell said. “The particular combination of his distinction as a poet and his distinction as a scholar is a very unusual combination. He’s irreplaceable.”
English professor David Bromwich also praised Hollander, not only for his eminence in the literary world, but also for the way in which Hollander shared his expertise with colleagues and students.
“He filled a place at Yale that nobody knew ought to exist before he was here,” Bromwich said. “And it’s impossible to imagine anyone else who will do quite the things he did so well.”
In the classroom, Hollander brought not only his extensive knowledge of literature, but also his contagious passion for it, said Princeton English professor Jeff Dolven ’90 GRD ’00. Dolven studied with Hollander during both his undergraduate and graduate years.
“What was so important for me was that, in what is considered to be a very serious profession, John never lost sight of the fact that it’s play; the most serious kind of play, but also the most pleasurable kind of play,” Dolven said.
Josh Platt ’04 said Hollander taught his class in a slightly unorthodox style. Instead of creating a syllabus like most other professors, Hollander would simply come to class every week and distribute a worksheet of poems that the class might or might not read.
“He’s idiosyncratic,” Platt said. “But the breadth of his teaching is like no other professor I’ve had. His ear for poetry and his skills as a teacher are unsurpassed.”
After teaching undergraduates for more than 30 years, Hollander said he was particularly proud of the department’s policy of having professors teach three undergraduate courses for every graduate course.
But Hollander’s commitment to undergraduate education did not diminish his work with graduate students, English professor Langdon Hammer said.
“Hollander has directed important dissertations that have become magnificent books in fields as varied as Victorian fiction … modern poetry and American literature,” Hammer said.
But Hollander’s scholastic expertise is not limited to poetry and literature.
“He was a person who knew everything about anything,” English professor Leslie Brisman said. “I can think of so many times when I stopped him for a piece of information and got an encyclopedia.”
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