R. P. Blackmur

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Richard Palmer Blackmur (January 21, 1904 – February 2, 1965) was an American literary critic and poet.


He was born and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. He attended Cambridge High and Latin School, but was expelled in 1918.[1] An autodidact, Blackmur worked in a bookshop after high school, and attended lectures at Harvard University without enrolling. He was managing editor of the literary quarterly Hound & Horn from 1928 to 1930, at which time he resigned, although he continued to contribute to the magazine until its demise in 1934.

In 1930 he married Helen Dickson.[2] In 1935 he published his first volume of criticism, The Double Agent; during the 1930s his criticism was influential among many modernist poets and the New Critics.[3]

In 1940 Blackmur moved to Princeton University, where he taught first creative writing and then English literature for the next twenty-five years. In 1947, he was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship.[4]

He founded and directed the university's Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism, named in honor of his colleague Christian Gauss. He met other influential poets while he taught at Princeton. They include W. S. Merwin and John Berryman. Merwin later published an anthology dedicated to Blackmur and Berryman, and a book of his own poetry (The Moving Target) dedicated to Blackmur. He taught at Cambridge University in 1961—62.[5]

Blackmur died in Princeton, New Jersey and was buried at the Pittsfield Cemetery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[6]

His papers are held at Princeton University.[7]

In Popular Culture[edit]

Frederick Crews parodied Blackmur as "P. R. Honeycomb" in his 1963 book of satirical literary criticism The Pooh Perplex.[8]

Saul Bellow based the snob figure of the critic Sewell on him in the novel Humboldt's Gift (1975).[9]


  • From Jordan's Delight 1937
  • The Second World, 1942
  • The Good European, 1947
  • Poems of R. P. Blackmur, Princeton University Press, 1977
  • The Double Agent: essays in craft and elucidation, 1935
  • The Expense of Greatness, 1940
  • Language as Gesture, 1952
  • Form and value in modern poetry, Doubleday, 1952
  • The Lion and the Honeycomb, 1955
  • Eleven Essays in the European Novel, 1964
  • Studies in Henry James. New Directions Publishing. 1983. ISBN 9780811208642. R. P. Blackmur.
  • Denis Donoghue, ed. Selected essays of R.P. Blackmur, Ecco Press, 1986, ISBN 9780880010832[10]


  1. ^ Fraser, p. xxxv
  2. ^ Fraser, p. xxxv
  3. ^ Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, Princeton University Press (1978).
  4. ^ Fraser, p. xxxvi
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-06. Retrieved 2012-08-30.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "R.P. Blackmur on Find A Grave". Retrieved October 20, 2017.
  7. ^ "R. P. Blackmur Papers, 1864-1965 (bulk 1920-1965): Finding Aid". Princeton University. Archived from the original on 2012-12-12.
  8. ^ Crews, The Pooh Perplex, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963, p. x, 28-38.
  9. ^ See James Atlas, Saul Bellow, New York: Modern Library, 2000, p. 178.
  10. ^ Harry Marten (June 8, 1986). "A Master of Close Reading". The New York Times.

External links[edit]