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About this poet

On August 28, 1952, Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio.

Her books of poetry include Collected Poems 1974–2004 (W. W. Norton, 2016), Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009); American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995); Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993); Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989); Thomas and Beulah (Carnegia-Mellon University Press, 1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980).

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992), essays in The Poet's World and the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (Story Line Press, 1994). She also edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (Penguin, 2011).

Dove's work traverses a wide range of landscapes, applying an unflinching eye upon historical and political events. In American Smooth, she reflects on her experiences with ballroom dancing. "For Dove, dance is an implicit parallel to poetry," said Emily Nussbaum in The New York Times review of the collection. "Each is an expression of grace performed within limits; each an art weighted by history but malleable enough to form something utterly new." Her latest work, Sonata Mulattica, is a poetic treatise on the life of nineteenth-century, biracial violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower and his friendship with Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dove served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995, and as poet laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2006 Common Wealth Award, the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2009 International Capri Award, and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, as well as twenty-five honorary doctorates, the most recent of which she received from Yale University in 2014. She is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of the Arts. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.

Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989. 

Selected Bibliography


Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009)
American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004)
On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999)
Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995)
Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993)
Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989)
Thomas and Beulah (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986)
Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983)
The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980)


Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992)
Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985)


Ludwig Van Beethoven's Return to Vienna

Rita Dove, 1952

Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, 
or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me....
	The Heiligenstadt Testament

Three miles from my adopted city 
lies a village where I came to peace.
The world there was a calm place, 
even the great Danube no more 
than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape
by a girl's careless hand.  Into this stillness 

I had been ordered to recover.  
The hills were gold with late summer;
my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, 
situated upstairs in the back of a cottage 
at the end of the Herrengasse.  
From my window I could see onto the courtyard 
where a linden tree twined skyward — 
leafy umbilicus canted toward light, 
warped in the very act of yearning —
and I would feed on the sun as if that alone 
would dismantle the silence around me.

At first I raged.  Then music raged in me,	           
rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough 
to ease the roiling.  I would stop 
to light a lamp, and whatever I'd missed — 
larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd's 
home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and I
would rage again.  

I am by nature a conflagration; 
I would rather leap 
than sit and be looked at.
So when my proud city spread  
her gypsy skirts, I reentered,  
burning towards her greater, constant light.
Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you, 
every tenderness I have ever known 
has been nothing 
but thwarted violence, an ache 
so permanent and deep, the lightest touch 
awakens it. . . . It is impossible 

to care enough.  I have returned 
with a second Symphony 
and 15 Piano Variations
which I've named Prometheus,
after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god 
who knew the worst sin is to take 
what cannot be given back.

I smile and bow, and the world is loud.  
And though I dare not lean in to shout 
Can't you see that I'm deaf? —
I also cannot stop listening.

"Ludwig Van Beethovens' Return to Vienna," from Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2009 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

"Ludwig Van Beethovens' Return to Vienna," from Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2009 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Rita Dove served as the US Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.

by this poet

Shirtsleeved afternoons
turn toward leather as the trees
blush, scatter a last

few bright, weary wisps across
the great bruised heart of the South.

The spirit cup drifts
down the pond's moon-sparked highway.
Far laughter, shadows.

Love or poison? Your turn. Drink
to the star-drenched latitudes!


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