John Ciardi, a poet, author and former Saturday Review poetry editor who won international acclaim for his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” has died at age 69.
Ciardi, the author of nearly 40 books, mostly children’s verse, died late Sunday at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison after suffering a massive heart attack at his home, said his widow, the former Judith Hostetter.
Ciardi, whose translation of “Inferno” from Italian into English was published in 1954 and is widely used at universities, completed translations of the other two books of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in 1970.
Poetry editor of Saturday Review from 1956 to 1972, he wrote the 1959 poetry textbook “How Does A Poem Mean” and was the author of more than a dozen books of children’s verse, for which he won numerous awards.
“If somebody was to really say, ‘I introduce to you John Ciardi, poet,’ that’s what he would have wanted,” his widow said Monday.
Ciardi was a fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member and former president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. For the past six years, he produced a weekly three-minute spot on etymology, or the study of the origin of words, for National Public Radio entitled “Word In Your Ear.”
“Over the last 12 years, his addiction and obsession was etymology and in addition to poems, he also was working on a history of words,” Mrs. Ciardi said.
Ciardi had just completed a third volume of that history, whose first two books were “Browser’s Dictionary” and “Second Browser’s Dictionary.”
Born in Boston in 1916, Ciardi received a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University in 1938 and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan a year later.
He served in the Army Air Forces in the Pacific from 1942-45 and taught at the University of Kansas City in 1946, where he met his wife, then the school’s public information director.
Ciardi taught at Harvard University until 1953 and at Rutgers University until his resignation from full professorship in 1961.
Among his children’s books are “The Reason for the Pelican,” “I Met a Man,” “Fast and Slow: Poems for Advanced Children and Beginning” and “Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast.”
In 1956, Ciardi received the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1982, the National Council of Teachers of English awarded him its award for excellence in children’s poetry.
In addition to his wife, Ciardi is survived by a daughter, two sons and three sisters.
No funeral is planned, although a memorial service will be held later in the year, Mrs. Ciardi said.