Battell Chapel was filled nearly to capacity on Saturday as members of the Yale community gathered to commemorate the legacy of Sterling Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom GRD ’56.
Students, faculty, friends and family members remembered and celebrated the life of a professor who deeply influenced the English discipline and those who study it. Former graduate students and colleagues — including former University President Richard Levin — gave speeches and presented musical and photographic tributes.
“The great poems, plays, novels, stories teach us how to go on living, even submerged under 40 fathoms of bother and distress,” the second page of the service program read, quoting the late professor himself. “If you live 90 years you will be a battered survivor. Your own mistakes, accidents, failures and otherness beat you down. Rise up at dawn and read something that matters as soon as you can.”
Bloom passed away on Oct. 14, 2019 at the age of 89. He taught two undergraduate courses — “Shakespeare and the Canon: Histories, Comedies and Poems” and “Poetic Influence from Shakespeare to Keats” — last fall, and he conducted his final class four days before his passing.
Rabbi Herbert Brockman offered the opening greeting, after which Levin shared memories of Bloom and his legacy. Levin talked about his great fortune in serving as Bloom’s effective department chair for two decades, explaining Bloom broke from the English department in 1977 and became a de facto department on his own.
Several musical interludes accompanied the program of speakers, some of whom spoke in pairs. In addition, a handful of audio clips from radio and podcast interviews brought Bloom’s voice momentarily back to life in the chapel.
“[There] were multiple Blooms and multiple legacies — so it’s hard to choose,” Yale English professor Peter Cole said about Bloom’s legacy. “But what will stay with me, forever, is what — in one way or another — came through his every breath and sentence, which is to say, his belief that ‘the proper work of poetry is to startle us out of our sleep-of-death into a more capacious sense of life.’ He himself, in person and with his writing, did just that.”
Professor Penelope Laurans worked with Bloom’s widow, Jeanne Gould, to display photographs from the family’s personal albums. The photographs showcased the professor’s life from his childhood through recent years.
A reception at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library followed the service, which began at 2 p.m.
“When Penelope Laurans asked for those who had been students of Harold Bloom to stand up, more than half the audience stood,” said Sterling Professor of English David Bromwich, who also spoke at the service.
Bloom joined Yale’s faculty over 50 years ago, after graduating in 1956 with a doctorate in English language and literature. He earned critical acclaim for many of his 40-plus books, as well as his poetry interpretations.
Bloom also amassed a collection of notable honors, including a MacArthur Genius Grant and a Fulbright Award.
“That so many former students came to honor professor Bloom — many coming from many miles away despite the snowstorm — is a true testament to his remarkable legacy as a teacher, mentor and friend to those who knew him,” said Steven Tian ’20, who took two classes with Bloom. “It was clear that he inspired so many over the years with his inimitable passion for literature, his originality of perspective and his generosity of spirit. He was truly original and irrepressible.”
In addition to his wife, Bloom is survived by his two sons, Daniel and David.
Olivia Tucker | firstname.lastname@example.org