Helen Vendler

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Helen Vendler
BornApril 30, 1933
AwardsAmerican Academy of Arts and Letters, 1993
Academic background
Alma materEmmanuel College (AB)
Harvard University (PhD)
Academic work
InstitutionsHarvard University
Boston University
Cornell University
Swarthmore College
Smith College
Main interestsPoetry, poetics, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney

Helen Hennessy Vendler (born April 30, 1933)[1] is an American literary critic and is Porter University Professor Emerita at Harvard University.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Vendler has written books on Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, John Keats, and Seamus Heaney. She has been a professor of English at Harvard University since 1984; from 1981 to 1984 she taught alternating semesters at Harvard and Boston University.[3] In 1990 she was appointed the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor, the first woman to hold this position. She has also taught at Cornell University, Swarthmore and Smith Colleges, and Boston University. She married (and later divorced) the philosopher Zeno Vendler, with whom she had one son. In 1992 Vendler received an honorary Litt. D. from Bates College.[4]

Vendler earned an A.B. in chemistry at Emmanuel College. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for mathematics before earning her Ph.D. in English & American Literature from Harvard.[5] She has also been a judge for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award, in poetry.

In 2004, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Vendler for the Jefferson Lecture, the federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.[6][7] Her lecture, "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar",[8] used poems by Wallace Stevens[9] to argue for the role of the arts (as opposed to history and philosophy) in the study of humanities.[10]

Vendler delivered the 2000 Warton Lecture on English Poetry.[11] She is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.[12][13][14]



  1. ^ date & year of birth, full name according to LCNAF CIP data
  2. ^ Harvard Gazette, "Faust named University Professor" Harvard Gazette, December 17, 2018.
  3. ^ Joel A. Getz, "Vendler Accepts English Dept. Appointment," Harvard Crimson, December 10, 1984.
  4. ^ List of Honorary Degree Recipients
  5. ^ Helen Vendler's CV
  6. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  7. ^ Joshua D. Gottlieb, "Vendler Tapped for National Lecture," Harvard Crimson, March 12, 2004.
  8. ^ Helen Vendler, "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar", text of Jefferson Lecture at NEH website.
  9. ^ See for example her remarks about Stevens's Harmonium and its various poems, such as Le Monocle de Mon Oncle and Bantam in Pine Woods
  10. ^ Sam Teller, "Vendler Advocates Larger Role for Arts in Academia," Harvard Crimson, March 15, 2005.
  11. ^ Vendler, Helen (2001). "Wallace Stevens: Hypotheses and Contradictions" (PDF). Proceedings of the British Academy. 111: 225–244. (See Wallace Stevens.)
  12. ^ "Gruppe 4: Litteraturvitenskap" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  13. ^ "Helen Hennessy Vendler". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  14. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2022-03-28.

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