Robert Fitzgerald‘s term as Consultant in Poetry was brief due to his advanced age and ill health. His appointment was announced at the closing event of his predecessor Anthony Hecht‘s tenure in May of 1984. Although he’d been wary of taking the role due to his recent cancer battle and radiation therapy, Fitzgerald negotiated an arrangement to do the bulk of his work from his home outside of New Haven, Connecticut. It is a sign of the esteem with which he was held as a poet and translator that the Library was amenable to such an odd arrangement; the Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, was reputed to have been reading Fitzgerald’s translation of Virgil‘s Aeneid when the decision was made.
Sadly, a few months after his appointment, Fitzgerald’s cancer returned and it became clear he would not be able to fulfill his commitment to the role. Reed Whittemore, who had held the position 20 years before and was teaching nearby at the University of Maryland, was asked to serve as interim consultant and finish out Fitzgerald’s term. Fitzgerald died the following January. In April of 1985, the Library honored Fitzgerald’s memory with an event that included a choral cantata based on his translation of Sophocles‘s Oedipus at Colonus, declamations from his translation of Homer‘s The Odyssey, and Whittemore and Seamus Heaney reading from Fitzgerald’s own poetry.