Stanford professor and poet Wesley Trimpi dies at 85

Former English professor, poet, scholar of literature remembered for his intellectual prowess, way with words

Wesley Trimpi, a poet and professor emeritus of English at Stanford University, died from heart failure at Stanford University Hospital on March 6. He was 85.

The former Woodside resident is remembered fondly by his former colleagues and students as a dedicated academic who inspired others through his lectures, writings and poetry.

Trimpi began and ended his academic career at Stanford. He earned a bachelor's degree in English at the university in 1950 before heading to Harvard University for a PhD in English. In 1957 he returned to Stanford, where he taught in the Department of English until his retirement in 1992.

In the nearly 40 years he spent at Stanford, he covered a wide variety of literary subjects -- from 17th-century lyric poetry to ancient poetic theory -- garnering accolades from fellow academics and helping to mold the minds of his students.

His 1983 book, "Muses of One Mind: The Literary Analysis of Experience and Its Continuity" was praised by the late Harvard medieval scholar Morton Bloomfield as "a major contribution to our understanding of ancient narrative and its theory."

One of Trimpi's former students, Denis Logie, recalled taking a poetry class led by the professor in 1959.

"It was a class I was ill prepared for," Logie stated in a university press release. "I loved poetry, but had received no formal insight or instruction in my high school. Professor Trimpi awakened in me an understanding and thirst and love for poetry, which has never abated."

Kathy Hannah Eden, an English and classics professor at Columbia University who studied under Trimpi as a graduate student, dedicated her first book to him. She remembers him as a deeply inquisitive and intellectual man, with a passion for understanding the ancients.

"The questions that preoccupied him in and out of the classroom proved fundamental to understanding the deep investment of the ancients, their admirers and even their detractors, throughout the centuries in what we call 'literature' today," Eden said. "Wes was, without a doubt, the scholar's scholar."

Steven Shankman, a professor of English and classics at the University of Oregon, also studied under Trimpi as a graduate student. He remembered his former teacher as an "exacting scholar" who understood poetry and literature in an academic way, but also intuitively. Trimpi, according to Shankman, posessed "a keen and sensitive understanding of, and feeling for, poetic form" and was "himself an accomplished poet" with a "feel for the word, the line, and for meter."

Trimpi was born on Sept. 3, 1928, in New York City, N.Y., to William Wesley Trimpi Sr. and Marion Bock Trimpi, according the Stanford release.

He was admitted to the hospital last week after falling in his Woodside home.

He is survived by his former wife, poet Helen Pinkerton Trimpi; his two daughters, Erica Light and Alison Corcoran and their husbands; his sons-in-law, Martin Light and Robert Corcoran; his brother, Michael L. Trimpi; his sister, Abigail M. Kellogg; his grandsons, Matthew Light and Jonathan Light; and his great-granddaughter, Juliette Light.

Correction: This article has been edited to reflect the correct cause of death. A previous version of this story reported that Trimpi died of pneumonia. However, his official cause of death was heart failure.

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