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College of Arts and Sciences

M.H. Abrams (1912-2015)

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When Class of 1916 Professor Emeritus M. H. "Mike" Abrams turned 100 on July 23, 2012, his life was celebrated in a major event at Cornell University, commemorated on this page. "His passing is a deep loss to the College of Arts and Sciences and to all of us who love literature," says Gretchen Ritter '83, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

One of the most distinguished scholars ever to teach at Cornell, Professor Abrams was the author of The Mirror and the Lamp, named one of the 100 most important works of non-fiction of the 20th century by the Modern Library, and was the founding editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature. In 2012, W. W. Norton published a new book by Abrams, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem and Other Essays.

"Remembering M.H. Abrams" - Sept. 12, 2015 Memorial Service

Read his New York Times obituary.

The Fourth Dimension of a Poem

With a Foreword by Harold Bloom

A new collection of essays by the legendary literary scholar and critic.

Book cover

In the year of his one-hundredth birthday, preeminent literary critic, scholar, and teacher M. H. Abrams brought us a collection of nine new and recent essays that challenged the reader to think about poetry in new ways. In these essays, three of them never before published, Abrams engaged afresh with pivotal figures in intellectual and literary history, among them Kant, Keats, and Hazlitt.

The Fourth Dimension of a Poem

A Conversation with M.H. Abrams:

M.H. Abrams' 100th birthday in the news

Open Mic for Mike - A Tribute to M.H. Abrams

Lianne Bornfeld (Cornell University), Winner of the Poems Aloud Recitation Contest

Birthday Messages for Mike

Submitted by Steve Lisberer on Sep 6, 2012

Dear Mike, Heartfelt congratulations on your 100th birthday! I wish my mother Jane McCarthy had been able to be there. The good news is that the Cornell tradition lives on in her family. My daughter Emika has just started as a freshman in the class of 2016. I will try to get her to make an appointment to say hello to you some day. Steve Lisberger

Submitted by Sam Bloomfield on Aug 24, 2012

Prof. Abrams: I just read your interview in the NY Times Book review [8/26/12] on the Norton Anthology. I wanted to congratulate you on your achievement.

My father, Morton Bloomfield, always spoke of you with great admiration and respect and I remember meeting you more than once as a youngster in our home in Cambridge. Your answer to the interviewer's question to "why study literature" was inspiring and also reminded me of my father's love for literature. All good wishes to you.

Submitted by Anthony Serafini on Aug 5, 2012

Congratulations Professor Abrams; you probably don't remember me, but you heard me playing the violin in Goldwin Smith Hall; I would occasionally sit in your office and you wrote me a note giving me permission to keep playing the violin in that hall. This was in 1963-64

Anthony Serafini

Submitted by Paul Sawyer on Aug 2, 2012

Dear Mike,

I'm sending you by email a statement I originally intended to share at the "Open Mike for Mike" event but wasn't able to because of time constraints. We've had many connections, and I have many ways to look back and to look forward. Today, I'd like to share with you and others thoughts about teaching.

The passage of time makes some numbers hard to fathom. You officially retired thirty years ago, and you taught your last course—on time you donated to Cornell—nearly a quarter of a century ago. Like you, I'm sure, that time seems like yesterday to me, and it's hard indeed to imagine that a generation of students has grown up with the Norton anthologies in the time since you last taught the course the anthology was originally designed for. Yet your whole approach to literature as an intimate human experience is bound up with teaching it: the Glossary of Literary Terms and the anthologies are for everybody, but for no one more than students and their teachers reading and learning together. As you originally taught it, "The English Literary Tradition" was a lecture of as many as ninety students and a staff of TA's who selected special topics for the modules (two week-long seminars), which interrupted the regular lectures and gave students a chance to study a work or topic intensively. In later years, you split the spring half of the survey with a colleague, taking for yourself roughly the years from Dryden to Wordsworth. This of course meant that although both the course and the massive anthologies that supplied its texts were associated with your name, "The English Literary Tradition" was team-taught. Listening to your lectures before taking up my own, I absorbed more than I could describe briefly here; but three basic assumptions of your teaching were especially hard to miss. First: that literary history is an indispensable (if not the only) way to study literary texts because of the relationships of influence, stylistic continuities, and historical occasions that are discernible from a chronological approach. Second, that a canon of the best exists and can be defended, not as a small coterie of authors defined rigidly and for all time but as an inclusive body of writers, all of whom are good and good in different ways. Third: that despite everything in the study of literature that remains speculative or ambiguous or otherwise dependent on the variety of individual responses, there is such a thing as literary knowledge that can be described cogently. Yours lectures (as will surprise no one) were models of clarity and delightful to follow. One TA we taught with, who had started college as a science major, mentioned once that you taught like a science teacher. It turned out, of course, that you did experimental work on the Army's alphabetical code during the war, and that your first publication was therefore in a scientific field. I loved that remarks because the clarity and structure of your lectures—which reminded him of "science"--fit so well with what we take to be the opposite of science: the expression of delight. And you conveyed the delight of literature without gushiness, but with an understatement that let the texts (once you'd illuminated key features and contexts) speak for themselves. The undergraduates loved the experience. As I just said, the course was team-taught, and here I come to what feels hardest to convey to those who weren't around to know you as a teacher. I mean your ability to convey full professional acceptance of another person by implication. Without ceremony or condescension, you would begin work with each semester's new staff (graduate students, professors) with the complete assumption that we were all competent to be where we were and to take our parts. This is hard to describe or recall in anecdote. But for some reason, thinking back on those teams, I focus on the grading sessions. Once a semester and once again at the end, "The English Literary Tradition" featured an objective exam (it still does, at least when I teach it), scored by a rapid assigning of numbers, toted up at the end for a grade. You would gather your colleagues together at the beginning of the day, in front of a stack of (say) ninety bluebooks, with the evident certainty that, somehow or other, by the end of that same day we'd manage to score every question in every booklet. A half-hour to go over answers and consider oddball examples, and then we set to work; then came lunch; then the afternoon, and then the laying-out of numbers on the blackboard for the final letter grading. We all got a glimpse of the famous Abrams energy on those occasions, which for me embodied itself in the pipe you don't smoke any more. The grads had the time of their lives, as I recall. After the final exam, we'd have dinner with you and Ruth at home and a walk to Sunset Park to round off the evening. I'm thinking very specifically now of the time when (though we weren't encouraged to mention it), we all knew you'd decided to finish that part of your work. But that sentence is premature, because of course you've never stopped being a teacher. Just as I was present during your last semesters of teaching "The English Literary Tradition," I was also present at (I believe) your last appearance before students in the course. I had the course again in the spring of 2008 and found that you were able to visit, despite the harshness of an early "spring" in Ithaca. The date we chose fell on the slot for Keats, and you spent most of the hour on "To Autumn." Your chat about this last of the great odes had the hallmarks I've mentioned above: the aspect of knowledge (which included such details of speech and nuance as the soft lifting of the tongue at "soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" and the line break at the gleaner's "steady" load), and (almost entirely implicitly) the aspect of feeling, of delight. As you briefly reminded them, the young poet was himself at the penultimate (and in that sense "autumnal") moment of his career; he hadn't hemorrhaged yet, but he had good reason to suspect his life wouldn't be long. You pointed to the final rhyme (dies, skies), the hint of the "wailful" gnats, the absence of a mention of winter (alone of the four), and so forth, to the intensity of the last moments before sunset, as the swallows prepare to migrate. Speaking to the class from what must have seemed to them an immensity of time (you were only 96, actually) of a young poet's immortally resonant meditation on the acceptance of death, you quietly dramatized (as it seemed to me then and does now) the immense power of literature, insofar as it has power, and also one way in which (pace Auden) poetry can make things happen: by becoming, as Auden also put it, a voice, a way of speaking. Shelley, in his different idiom, said of Keats that he'd become a portion of what he once made more lovely. It wouldn't be enough, though, to think of "To Autumn" as a poem of preparation for an ending. Above all, as you richly demonstrated, it's a poem about life, about life as an "end" (purpose) or culmination—about the time when things are ripest, when the rewards of a career or an effort come abundantly home. And that, I think, is why I'm remembering Keats—and your reading of Keats—so vividly now, during this time of celebration.

Happy birthday,


Submitted by Hugh Dingle on Jul 31, 2012

Dear Mike,

I was a zoology major at Cornell (advised by another distinguished faculty member, LaMont Cole) when I took your course in English Literature in 1955-56. That course almost convinced me to switch majors to English, but I am afraid my ultimate love of biology eventually won out. It was a terrific course, so many memories, but perhaps my favorite is how you made the characters in Skakespeare's history plays come so alive. We met again (you even said you remembered me!) when you gave a talk at the University of Iowa in November, 1982 - still inspiring, still entrancing. It was my last public lecture at Iowa as I was on the way "out the door" to a professorship at UCDavis. So from this Evolutionary Biologist a deep and sincere thanks, and congratulations on a (still continuing) wonderful career!

Submitted by Jonathan Gold '65 on Jul 30, 2012

I took your Introduction to English Literature 251-252 in the academic year 1962-63. I don't remember in which semester it appeared but one day we came in and you simply read us 'Michael.' I did not know how to read or hear a poem until then. I still hear, "And never lifted up a single stone," and the hush of silence that followed it: Wordsworth's, yours, the class's, mine. Thank you.


Submitted by Bill Mai the Younger on Jul 26, 2012

Great going, Mike! I am so proud to have known you, and thanks for everything you and Ruthie have done for me and Elizabeth!

Submitted by Carol A. Fritz on Jul 26, 2012

Truly enjoyed finally hearing you lecture more than forty years after I graduated. A celebration well worth waiting for!

Does the importance of articulated sound in a poem mean good translation is not possible?

Submitted by JMA on Jul 25, 2012

Happy 100th, Professor Abrams! Thank you for giving us life and literature triumphant.

Health and blessings,

Joselyn M. Almeida

Submitted by Harry Shaw on Jul 25, 2012

I regret that attending my mother's ninety-sixth birthday prevented me from taking part of the festivities surrounding your hundredth. You remain in my eyes the model of judicious intelligence--and a magnificent reader of poetry.

Submitted by Sanghamitra Sadhu on Jul 25, 2012

It indeed was a blessing to wissh you on your 100 years B'day and learn poetry lessons from you! It was the best poetry class I ever attended, Prof Abrams! I never realized that poetry reading can be so gripping and mesmerizing! Thank you so much for giving a completely an astonishing, new way to look at poems! For me, it was the most memorable event during my short stay at Cornell. Wish you a very good health in the years to come!

Submitted by Laura Brown on Jul 25, 2012

Dear Mike, Congratulations--on everything. The century/birthday that we are all celebrating, the new book forthcoming, and the extraordinary career from which we have all benefited so much. Best and fondest wishes, Laura

Submitted by elizabeth green on Jul 24, 2012

Happy birthday from a stranger who has learned so much and received great pleasure from your writing these many years. Elizabeth Green

Submitted by James Heffernan on Jul 24, 2012

Dear Mike, Congratulations on your hundredth birthday—and even more on the remarkable way in which you have celebrated it.

Here at Dartmouth, the late Arthur Meyer used to give lectures on the history of film into his early nineties, but I suspect your own feat is absolutely unprecedented, and even over the internet, it is thrilling to hear you demonstrate so resonantly the powers of the fourth dimension.

Warmest congratulations again on yet another milestone in your astonishing career. It been a privilege and pleasure to know you. Jim


Submitted by Michael Ferber on Jul 24, 2012

Though we have met only once, briefly, my debts to you are wide and deep. For your great books and articles, of course, but also for a lecture at Bryn Mawr in 1964 that did as much as anything to propel me into Romanticism, for a kind note in response to an offprint, for your decisive jousts with deconstruction and new historicism. And for this most recently: when a flood destroyed my office and most of the books in it, Rick Bogel told me of the burst pipes in your house that ruined your library; I stopped complaining.

All good wishes, Michael Ferber

Submitted by Kristie Schlauraff on Jul 24, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams,

Happy 100th birthday! I hope your celebration of this fantastic milestone leaves nothing to be desired. Your work and life are an inspiration. I hiked around Beebe lake just like you recommended and it took exactly 28 minutes as you predicted it would! Happy birthday again!


Kristie Schlauraff

Submitted by Robin Inboden on Jul 24, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams, It is difficult to convey the utter delight I feel in hearing your lecture on the fourth dimension of a poem and in wishing you a happy one-hundredth birthday. As I watched the lecture online, I found myself smiling in my office at hearing your mellifluous reading voice, so little changed from when I knew you from 1979-1985 as your doctoral student.

As my advisor and dissertation director, you changed my life. I was a first-generation college student when I first encountered you as a name in gold on the deliciously substantial volume I bought for my British survey class as a first-year student at Kenyon. I have been a bit in awe of you ever since.

Once I met you, that awe was mixed with a warmer kind of admiration for how lightly you wear your enormous learning, and how concerned you were for the well-being of your students; many of us were anxious, driven, even single-minded. But you reminded us to take a walk, have friends, fall in love, have a nice meal--sometimes even with you and Ruth as host and hostess extraordinaire. Your warmth and generosity as a person impresses me as much as your world-class scholarship, and that's saying something.

Your mentorship has made possible my dream career--teaching in a small liberal-arts college in Ohio. I am not the most productive scholar among your former students, nor could ever hope to be. But you have been an inspiration to me as I try to open the minds of my students to the beauty and profundity that live in literature and in nature.

What a blessing it is to wish you a happy one-hundredth birthday!

Your former doctoral student, Robin Inboden Wittenberg University

Submitted by Phil Marcus on Jul 24, 2012

You and I have long shared a passion for Cornell sports, from the hockey games you and Arthur used to take me to, to football, and especially to the great days of Cornell lacrosse. Just one more side of "the complete Cornellian" you are! Warmest wishes and congratulations from your Southernmost colleague in always sunny Florida! Phil Marcus

Submitted by Oiny Lombardo on Jul 23, 2012

You don't know me. I'm a high school teacher who has thoroughly enjoyed your work for 30 years. You are a celebrity critic and top notch theorist of course, but you are so much more. You're a great person who (among other things) made many of us regular people much happier and a little better through your wonderful work.

Thank you so much.

Tony Lombardo

Submitted by Andrew Tidmarsh on Jul 23, 2012

Dear Prof Abrams,

Congratulations and Happy Birthday.

Your work is an inspiration to many of us. The clarity and wit that you bring to your writing remind us that "Academic" does not necessarily mean "stuffy".

I have two copies of the "Glossary" - one in my office and one at home. I am currently writing a book on Genre, and your work is a constant source of comfort and nurture.

Many many thanks - and congratulations once again.

With all best wishes,

Andrew Tidmarsh Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

Submitted by John Robbins on Jul 23, 2012

Thank you for your wonderful service and conversation!

Submitted by Robert Morgan on Jul 23, 2012

Dear Mike,

It is a thrill to help you celebrate your 100th birthday. For me it has been a special pleasure to have you as a colleague and role model all these years. Thanks for all the good conversation and lunches, and I hope we have many more. Rob Morgan

Submitted by Margaret Ferguson on Jul 23, 2012

Warm congratulations on your birthday, Professor Abrams! I fondly remember working for you as a research assistant after my freshman year at Cornell; I've been learning from you ever since. I wish you a glass full of the milk of paradise today. All best, Margie

Submitted by Alice Fulton on Jul 23, 2012

dear Mike,

It's a such privilege to teach at the university you call home and to have you as a colleague. Here are a few thoughts that go through my head on this bright day, your centenary.

I'm filled with wonder and boundless respect when I think of the transformative, shape-shifting effect you've had on literature these many years. Now, at the age of 100, you're astonishing us anew by publishing an important book that speaks to a singular and necessary aspect of poetic language: its music. I've marveled at your talks and presentations, which seem effortlessly structured, perfectly paced, and as delightful to experience as the works they describe. Your intellectual powers are preternatural, daunting. Moreover, every time I've been fortunate enough to talk with you (and I count those times too few), you've charmed as well as dazzled. On this frabjous day, I don't know whether to curtsy or tap dance, salute or blow kisses. Perhaps you can picture me pledging allegiance to your example, which I will never be able to approximate but which nonetheless offers a plenitude of heart and hope.

With love and bouquets from your fan and colleague, Alice Fulton

Submitted by Barbara Pavlock on Jul 22, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams,

Your graduate seminar on Keats that I took back in the mid-1970's was an inspiration. I've loved Keats ever since, putting him second only to Horace as a lyric poet! Many thanks for your dedicated teaching in that course, including your concern for good writing. Best wishes for your 100th birthday.

Barbara Pavlock

Submitted by Bob Folkenflik on Jul 22, 2012

Dear Mike,

I'm late for the party, but not for your birthday. I had a remarkable set of undergraduate and graduate teachers, some your friends and colleagues, but the course you gave that became Natural Supernaturalism when I was a graduate student in the early sixties was the most wide-ranging and intellectually adventurous I ever took, and the work I did for you then has been important to me ever since. I went to Cornell in the first place because I had read The Mirror and the Lamp as a sophomore. It was a great treat to return to Cornell and give a talk in 2005 and to have dinner afterwards with you, not least because you quizzed me by name on the doings of those who had been there with me forty some years before. When I heard two years later that you were named the honorary co-captain of the football team, I knew that I shouldn't cease to be amazed by your accomplishments. As one sometime Long Branch boy to another, warm congratulations on the great day.

Submitted by Harry Petchesky '59 on Jul 22, 2012

Happy Birthday. I'm delighted to see that you are still gathering rosebuds. Keep up the good work. God wiling, we'll be able to celebrate an ivy League football championship together this year.

Submitted by Edgar Rosenberg on Jul 22, 2012

Dear Mike,

Rum to think--wonderful to think that we both arrived at Cornell all of 67 years ago--you as a 32-year-old scholar-teacher, I as a backward 19-year-old-freshman. Wonderful, too, that we should have been colleagues and friends from the day, twenty years later, that Ruthie and you collected me at the Ithaca airport--and that in the years since we've been with each other everywhere from London to Treman Park, and back. What can I say except to filch Turgenev's words to the much larger Tolstoi: "It's been a privilege to be your contemporary."

All fondly, Yours, Edgar

Submitted by Ping Chen on Jul 22, 2012

Dear Prof. Abrams,

Congratulations and warmest greetings from China! Your works have been most reliable textbooks and reference books for me and my colleagues and students. Almost ten years ago I visited Ithaca for summer study, and was greatly honored for having the opportunity of meeting you in person, at noon, in your legendary workshop. Just as you had recommended Mencius on Mind for me to read, I had admired you as a kind of Confucian gentleman, for your constant quest of knowledge and attractive personality. I thought I also asked you a seemingly stupid question:"what is your current research project," not realizing that a professor in retirement do not need to write anything! But your new book makes me feel better, for having asked a correct question. With best wishes, Ping Chen

Submitted by Rick Bogel on Jul 21, 2012

Dear Mike:

10,000 good wishes on your hundredth! Here are two of the many memories I have from the decades we shared in the Cornell English Department: my pride and delight when you asked me to take on the undergraduate survey lecture in English; and our many conversations on criticism and theory in the quiet halls of Goldwin Smith on weekend mornings, when we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Thank you for your scholarship, your kindness, and your unquenchable joy.

Submitted by Vinay Ambegaokar on Jul 21, 2012

Congratulations! You may have forgotten, but I well remember, lunching with you, Scott Elledge, and Arthur Mizener in the days when we had a Faculty Club. The three of you talked almost exclusively about Cornell football, but the occasional comment about a poem and Scott's wry remarks enriched the life of this theoretical physicist.

Submitted by Pat Keane on Jul 20, 2012

Dear Mike,

I plan to be at the weekend events and to say a few words on Sunday. In the meantime, my warmest congratulations on the occasion of both your birthday and the publication of the new book.

Ever since NATURAL SUPERNATURALISM struck me like a thunderbolt forty years ago and transformed my life,I have been in your intellectual debt--a debt enhanced by your personal kindnesses to me over the years.

I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Pat Keane

Submitted by Robert Matz '86 on Jul 20, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams,

I have fond memories of your Intro to English Literature II course in 1983. And your wonderfully lucid glossary of literary terms has helped me out many a time. It's such a pleasure to wish you happy 100!

Submitted by Ian Balfour on Jul 20, 2012

Dear Mike,

A student of mine last year was writing on Keats and Hazlitt and I recommended half a dozen things she might read. She wrote back about only one: "Abrams is insanely intelligent! The Mirror and the Lamp is a goldmine." It's heartening that even your early work continues, at this seemingly late date, to teach and even inspire people a lot.

It was a great pleasure and unearned honour to be able to teach at Cornell two years ago in a position associated with your name. And an unexpected bonus to be able to meet you, hear choice stories of your studies in the 30s and more, and to hear you lecture.

Best wishes on this amazing centenary.

Ian Balfour

Submitted by Peter Linzer on Jul 19, 2012

Took Masterworks and 18th Cent. with you in 1959, and have never forgot what I learned. Still love Don Juan, Tristram S., and so many others. At Columbia Law School, I heard Lionel Trilling talk about Gulliver & told him that "Mr. Abrams at Cornell has an interesting theory about Book 4." He said, "Anything Mr. Abrams says would be interesting."


Pete Linzer '60

Submitted by Ellen Carol Jones on Jul 19, 2012

Dear Mike, What has always been most striking to me about you, in addition to your intellectual brilliance, is your generosity of spirit. You have been the model of excellence and kindness for countless students and colleagues and friends. This truth was brought home to us forcefully when an undergraduate student of mine, from Poland, won a national award in your honor from W.W. Norton: I knew I had passed on to him your love of scholarship--and love of literature. Thank you for the excitement about and passion for art you have shared with all of us. Congratulations on your one-hundredth birthday! With gratitude and all warmest wishes, Ellen

Submitted by Michael McGregor on Jul 19, 2012

The Trustees and staff of the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere send their warmest congratulations and best wishes to Professor Abrams on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Through landmark works of criticism such as The Mirror and the Lamp, his work as an Advisory Editor on the monumental Cornell Wordsworth series, and his inspiring teaching of thousands of students, Professor Abrams has done so much to further the cause of Wordsworth scholarship. This weekend of celebration at Cornell is a fitting tribute to a great Wordsworthian.

Submitted by Elizabeth and Hunter Rawlings on Jul 19, 2012

Dear Mike,

Has it really been nine years since you, a very youthful 91, invited -- prevailed upon-- Elizabeth to drive out to Enfield to see what you knew would be a wonderful post-presidency home: Judy and Sherman's idyllic sanctuary close by Treman Park? We gratefully lived in the house on Woodard Road for eight years, thinking of your prescience every day.

We wish we were there this weekend to help celebrate your 100th birthday and all the years in which your charm, wit, and intellect have illuminated and informed every Cornell domain: academic, cultural, athletic and philanthropic. It was always reassuring for us to know that you were a denizen of Goldwin Smith Hall, a presence in the heart of campus on whom we could permanently depend.

Thank you for your friendship, your scholarship, and your unfailing laughter. You continue to make Cornell the great university it is.

Elizabeth and Hunter

Submitted by Alison Lurie on Jul 19, 2012

Dear Mike-You've always been one of the natural treasures of not only Cornell University but Tompkins County--as continually amazing and inspiring and memorable as the Library tower or Ithaca Falls. Happy Birthday and love from Alison.

Submitted by Edward Hower on Jul 19, 2012

Thanks for your wonderful course in Romantic Poetry in 1962, the best course I took at Cornell. Because of you I still read and love the Romantics, and recently re-read the Preludes and Don Juan, which, like you, are as great as ever. Congratulations on the new book, and Happy Birthday!

Submitted by Danie R/ Scwhazr on Jul 19, 2012

Dear Mike:

You have been an inspiration to me as teacher, scholar, and citizen as well as generous mentor, friend, and wonderful colleague for my 44 years plus on the Cornell English Department faculty.

I have learned-- and continue to learn when we chat--so much from you in so many ways. I can only say, "Thank you, Mike."

I am honored and privileged--and humbled-- to hold the Whiton chair you had when I arrived here (before you moved on to the 1916 Chair), and also to be Faculty President of Phi Beta Kappa, a position you once held.

Warmest best wishes with all my appreciation, admiration, and respect.

Dan Schwarz

Submitted by Kathy MacCheyne on Jul 18, 2012

Mike!!! 100! Congratulations. After all of these years visiting on the sidelines at football practice, is was great to read all about your life and many accomplishments. Thank you for all that you have done. I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet and visit with you. I can't wait to see you at Cornell soon and wish you a very Happy Birthday in person! Enjoy your special day. Kathy

Submitted by Susan Levin, Freda Levin Ready on Jul 18, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams, For undergraduates studying literature in the sixties, your "English 418: Masterworks of the Romantics" was a must take. And then there was the rebellion among the Honors English group against the all-male authored list of texts for the final honors exam. "All right," you said. "Prepare To the Lighthouse." How many of us thus began our study of women's writing. But what we two English majors both remember on this birthday is how your support for our singing and acting endeavors has moved through the generations. In the old days, shows were done in the Straight theatre. You sat a little right of center in about the twelfth row. In 2005 you came to the refurbished Lincoln to hear modern vocal settings of Blake, a senior thesis project: "Burning Bright." Your very presence lent significance to our work. You were and are always there for us; we hope to be with you for some of this weekend to honor and celebrate your continuing place in our lives. Susan Levin '67 Freda Levin Ready '05

Submitted by Helene Sophrin Porte on Jul 18, 2012

Dear Mike, My favorite among your stories is this one: Home in Long Branch for the summer after your freshman year of college, you undertook to make some money. Your business card read simply:

M. H. Abrams Harvard University Tutor in All Subjects

If your lovable optimism and your fearless brilliance brought you early profit, greater profit surely accrued to your students -- that summer long ago and in all the years since.

And here is a birthday story: On the occasion of your 80th Joel and I threw a party. Joel made a "Happy Birthday" sign and hung it in the back yard. An artistic friend made a cake, on which stood a foil mirror and a frosting lamp. When you saw the sign, you -- the least self-absorbed of great men -- asked whose birthday it was. When you saw the cake, you remembered. With love, Helene

Submitted by Morris Beja on Jul 18, 2012

Dear Mike, My memories go way back. Yours was the first Ph.D. seminar I took at Cornell, and I was nervous, never having formally studied Romantic poetry before. The first day, you passed out a list of topics for our presentations. When I saw "Epiphany in Modern Literature," I grabbed on it. Your reaction to the presentation was so responsive and encouraging that I realized I had a dissertation topic, and as it turned out my first book. You were always wonderfully supportive, and as a teacher I always strove to model myself after your example—never successfully of course, but the effort made me I'm sure a much finer professor than I'd ever have been had I not known and learned from you. With all best wishes, Murray

Submitted by Carolyn Bliss on Jul 18, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams,

You are the kind of scholar/thinker/teacher I most admire: one who synthesizes, tracks the trends and sees the big picture, one who finds the why behind the what. I'll never forget a moment in the graduate seminar I took from you, when all the details over which you had such mastery suddenly fell into place and you showed me a pivotal moment in literary history. Of course, that's what you did in your masterful books as well, and that was the organizing principle behind the Norton Anthologies. I also remember a moment over lunch at a conference when you cautioned me about my own tendency to make sweeping judgments that were not adequately defended. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it needs to be practiced with circumspection and discretion. One more memory: the enormous gratification I felt in the A+ I received in your seminar. I've never been prouder of an academic achievement. You have meant the world to me. Congratulations on a century of impact.

Submitted by on Jul 18, 2012

Congratulations on becoming a centenarian, Professor Abrams! We still encourage any of our poetically-minded student-athletes to read "The Mirror and the Lamp." You remain one of Cornell's all-time greats!

With love & affection from all of us, The Cornell Men's Lacrosse Program.

Submitted by James McConkey on Jul 17, 2012

Dear Mike,

Ten years ago, when you were 90 and I was 80, you sponsored a talk/reading I gave at Kendal. You introduced me without notes. What you said was graceful and generous; it constituted such a sensitive assessment of my life and work that afterwards I asked you to give it again as an obituary statement at my funeral.

I'm 90 now, you're 100, and I'm still depending on you to preside at whatever memorial service I've been granted.

A most happy birthday, Mike.


Submitted by Ellen Tremper, '63 on Jul 17, 2012

An out-of-doors memory:

I'm sure of the season but not of the year, though it would have been 1962 or '63. I see you at dusk, sitting at what I think we used to call Jakes, the landing at the edge of Beebe Lake behind Noyes Lodge. You are putting on your skates. And then (the memory is like a dream, without intermediate steps) I see you next, already on the thick ice. Your movements seem effortless, especially the magical, balletic reversals of direction I have always admired in the practiced figure skater. I think: you were like the boy who "cut across the reflex of a star."

Submitted by Boqing Zheng on Jul 17, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday Professor Abrams

Submitted by Charles Heywood on Jul 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mike! I will never forget your kindness to me when I was a very nervous high school teacher giving a paper in 1995 at the Keats Bicentennial Conference at Harvard. And my wife Mary has never forgotten the pleasure she got from spending the day shopping in Cambridge with Ruth, as far away from speeches as they could get!

Submitted by Stuart Ende on Jul 16, 2012

Mike, your generous spirit saw me through a Ph.D. in 1970 and has been an ideal ever since. It is a joy to send you love and congratulations on this quite wondrous occasion! Keep writing and influencing students-- Stuart Ende

Submitted by Marilyn Abrams on Jul 15, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams, I humbly wish you a happy, happy birthday. Your classes were among my happiest memories at Cornell. How you managed to inspire a flighty 17 year old to appreciate poetry and literature is still beyond my comprehension, but I thank you for that lifelong love. To my favorite professor, my admiration and love, Marilyn Greene Abrams '57

Submitted by Kathryn Castle on Jul 15, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams You were my freshman advisor. I was feeling out of my depth. You showed a kindness I remember to this day (as I retire after 30 years of teaching undergraduates in London.) with very best wishes

Submitted by Nicholas Halmi on Jul 14, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams,

I never imagined, taking English 202 as a freshman, that I would wind up teaching Romantic literature at Oxford, let alone editing Norton editions of Coleridge and Wordsworth. But it was your teaching that introduced me to the English Romantic poets, and your criticism that stimulated my interest in the intellectual history of the Romantic period, thereby setting me on my own circuitous journey back to the writers I first encountered that winter semester of 1985.

With grateful thanks and best birthday wishes, Nicholas Halmi '88

Submitted by Suressa Holtzman Forbes '52 on Jul 14, 2012

One of the high points of my years at Cornell was participating in Meyer Abrams Honors Seminar in Romantic Literature. His gentle, but thorough guide through the great poems lives with me still, though my career took me far from those wonderful days. I only wish I could be in Ithaca for the "Open Mike with Mike" to offer a tribute in person, but family duties call me elsewhere.

Submitted by Emily Keast Donahue on Jul 14, 2012

You are part of my memory of growing up - Jane as a schoolmate,your office as a welcoming place to visit. Congratulations on your centennial!

Submitted by Roald Hoffmann on Jul 13, 2012

Dear Mike, By a twist of fate, my 75th birthday is being celebrated at Cornell on exactly the two days yours is. So I won't be there to wish you a happy birthday in person. But I am thinking of you, seeing in my mind the excitement a reading of a poem still holds for you. The worlds within words... Be well, stay well, keep writing. Love, Roald

Submitted by C. K. Poe Fratt Jr. on Jul 13, 2012

Professor Abrams,

Congratulations on reaching an important milestone.

My father thought so highly of your work and enjoyed your company even more.

May you enjoy many more birthdays!

All the best, Poe Fratt, Jr.

Submitted by Jan Surasky on Jul 13, 2012

I took your class English 251 and was forever entranced by your lectures. I remember that when you delivered the Chaucer lecture you dressed in period costume while you read Chaucer aloud. It was a memorable moment. You made literature come alive.

In doing graduate work in English literature at the University of Rochester I found one of your books to use for a paper I was doing on Keats.I was enthralled with your beautiful writing, your genius in understanding Keats, and your wonderful regard for English literature in general. Because I took graduate classes a number of years after Cornell, the experience took me back to the wonderful days at Cornell. I loved literature long before I got to Cornell but I know your class enhanced it and I know the memories of it and those enjoyable hours and the poems we read which have stayed with me all my life have enriched my life. I also know that the memories of sitting in that class have been with me through the many years I did magazine and newspaper work and with the novels I have written. I hope you have a wonderful birthday! You have given so many people so much.

Regards, Jan Surasky

Submitted by Bruce Stirling on Jul 11, 2012

While I never had you as a teacher , I said your name almost every day while at sea in 1970-72. I was serving as Officer of the Deck on an aircraft carrier while on a leave of absence from Cornell's Graduate School of Business . A standard signal to the other ships in the formation was either " 'Mike' Corpen--my course is__ , or 'Mike' Speed--my speed is__."Little did I know that you and Cornell would follow me everywhere via your development of the military phonetic alphabet ! Bruce Stirling JGSM'73

Submitted by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. on Jul 6, 2012

Dear Mike:

Here are 3 Abrams-isms lodged in my memory after many decades.

After a wayward 2 years at Cornell, including some disagreements with my sophomore English professor, I came to see you (around 1947/8) about an honors program you were starting. After a few minutes of chat, I confessed that I had just made a C in sophomore English. You said "You're in. It takes a lot of talent to make a C in that course."

My favorite scholarly Abrams-ism: good criticism requires "a keen eye for the obvious."

My favorite airport-waiting-room Abrams-ism: I ask you: Have you read "A Sea of Thighs?" You replied without a pause: "No, I haven't seen hide nor hair of that one."

Very fondly,

Don Hirsch

Submitted by J. Hillis Miller on Jul 5, 2012

Congratulations and Happy Birthday, Mike. My memories of our encounters over the years are happy and constructive ones. I continue to admire your intransigent cheerfulness, from which I have learned much.

All best wishes, Hillis

Submitted by Nina Baym on Jul 4, 2012

Dear Mike, Jack and I salute you on this auspicious occasion, and are with you in spirit. We thank you for all you've done for the profession, and for us personally. With very much love, Nina Baym and Jack Stillinger.

Submitted by Erin Obodiac on Jul 2, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams, I look forward to reading your new book, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem. Best wishes on your birthday. Erin Obodiac

Submitted by James L. Thorson on Jul 2, 2012

Dear Mike,

My personal memories of you go back almost exactly fifty years, to when I enrolled in your seminar "The Shorter Lyric" in the fall of 1962. I learned a great deal that semester and have continued to learn from your writings and your example in the decades since that first contact.

In the late 1970s, I asked you to come to Albuquerque to give a lecture. You graciously did so (for a very small honorarium) and wowed the English department at the University of New Mexico with your knowledge, your nuanced thought, and your presence. Connie and I had a great time showing you a bit of New Mexico. You found a necklace in a shop in old town and bought it for Ruth. A few days later, Connie answered the telephone at home and you confessed that " I have made a horrible mistake!" You had brought only one necklace back to Ithaca, and three were required. Connie manages to find two more similar "liquid silver" necklaes for your daughters, and the problem was solved.

I wish that I could be there for your birthday celebration, but I am sure that you will be overwhelmed by friends, former students, and colleagues. Thanks for everything. Jim (Ph. D. '66) and Connie (Thorson)

Submitted by Geoffrey Hartman on Jul 1, 2012

Dear Mike,

I've always envied Harold Bloom for having studied with you; and in my year or so as a teacher at Cornell, you took time out to be sociable and to show Renee and me all your favorite places around Cornell. There is something eternal about you, which shows in your work; and so I dare to hope that the Mike will always remain open for Mike.

Submitted by Geoffrey Hartman on Jul 1, 2012

Dear Mike,

I've always envied Harold Bloom for having studied with you; and in my year or so as a teacher at Cornell, you took time out to be sociable and to show Renee and me all your favorite places around Cornell. There is something eternal about you, which shows in your work; and so I dare to hope that the Mike will always remain open for Mike.

Submitted by Helen Vendler on Jun 30, 2012

Dear Mike, I remember fondly being one of your assistants in the survey of British Literature, along with Phyllis Rindler, John Wallace, and Forrest Reed. It was 1960, the first year of my first job, and I was clueless. You were kind to me in conversation and in professional advice, and I remain ever your grateful colleague. Helen Vendler

Submitted by ANTONIA PEW on Jun 30, 2012



Submitted by Sue Kelsey Tester on Jun 29, 2012

As a 1967 graduate of Cornell's English Honors program, I was privileged to learn to love and savor poetry from Professor Abrams. His influence contributed to my decision to pursue graduate studies in English and to my own writing. I shall happily enjoy his latest collection of essays. Congratulations and best wishes.

Submitted by Susan DeWire (Hosek) on Jun 29, 2012

I was one year ahead of Jane at Ithaca High School and we got to know each other better when we were at the Overseas School of Rome in 1960-61. This will be a wonderful celebration and, as it is the same weekend as the IHS Class of 1962 reunion, I will try to attend some of it.

Congratulations and Best Wishes, Sue Dewire

Submitted by Cindy Kane Trumbore on Jun 29, 2012

Dear Professor Abrams, I owe two of my best memories of majoring in English at Cornell to you. The first came during English 202, when you placed an Aeolian harp in the window of our classroom as we studied the Coleridge poem; I still remember the sound of that harp plinking erratically throughout the class. The second was during my senior year, when I was taking a course in Paradise and Fall in English Literature and quoted extensively from The Mirror and the Lamp in a paper for the class. I happened to run into you coming across the suspension bridge after I delivered the paper, and I exclaimed, "I just quoted you in a paper!" You took me by the sleeve, gently pulled me aside, and asked me to explain the premise of the paper to you. I did, you pronounced it sound, and you went on your way. Thank you for giving me my love of poetry and an example of someone who unites his "avocation and vocation" in the field of English.--Cindy Kane Trumbore(editor, children's book author, writing teacher)

Submitted by Nathalie Monge on Jun 29, 2012

Thank you, Prof. Abrams!

I didn't have the honor of attending your classes during my time at Cornell, but you are a true inspiration.

Know that your story made a Costa Rican Cornellian smile today.

Congratulations on your many achievements!

Nathalie Monge De Andreis '05

Submitted by Alys Yeh on Jun 29, 2012

I have fond memories of your Romantic Literature class in 1958. I have long since discarded most of my college textbooks, but have kept The College Survey of English Literature, Vol. 2, which was the book that you taught from. How many students you must have influenced with your wonderful teaching. Alys Chew ('60) Yeh.