Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Ciardi, John Anthony, 1916-1986
John Anthony Ciardi (1916-86), A1938, H1960, was a widely recognized critic, etymologist, poet, and translator whose works affected the literary experiences of millions of American children and adults.
Born in Boston's North End, Ciardi spent his youth in Medford, Massachusetts, in a home on South Street, overlooking the Mystic River. He began his college career in the prelaw program at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, but transferred during his sophomore year. As an undergraduate at Tufts, he began to write under the tutelage of the poet John Holmes. He particpated in few campus activities, mainly writing for Tuftonian, a literary magazine, and acting for Pen, Paint, and Pretzels. With Holmes's urging, Ciardi submitted a collection of his work for consideration of the Hopwood Prize, which had been won the previous year by playwright Arthur Miller. Ciardi won, gaining national attention before he completed college.
After graduating from Tufts in 1938, he attended the University of Michigan, receiving his M.A. in 1939, and served from 1942-45 in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a B-29 gunner in the South Pacific during World War II.He later resumed his career as a writer and teacher of English at Kansas City University, Rutgers, and Harvard.
Choosing to focus his attention solely on his writing, Ciardi gave up teaching in 1961. He has been called "a poet for the 'middlebrow' reader," authoring more than forty books, primarily consisting of poetry for adults and children, including "The Birds of Pompeii" and "How Does a Poem Mean."From 1956-77, Ciardi helped shape the literary tastes of Americans as a critic and poetry editor for Saturday Review. He also penned what is regarded by many critics to be the finest English translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, especially Inferno, which sold more than 3 million copies. Ciardi focused not on following Dante's rhyme scheme, but attempted instead to relay the feeling propelling the original textby using tense modern verse idiom. He also collaborated on "Limericks, Too Gross" and "A Grossery of Limericks" with Isaac Asimov during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Ciardi was also a highly respected etymologist, studying the history of words. Aside from publishing "A Browser's Dictionary," he also spoke weekly on National Public Radio about words and word groupings. At the time of his death, he was working on an etymology book for children. He died at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, on March 30, 1986. With his wife, Judith, Ciardi had three children, Myra, John, A1976, and Benn.
Source: TC, Winter 1986, Spring 1986; EB