John Hollander, a virtuosic poet who breathed new life into traditional verse forms and whose later work achieved a visionary, mythic sweep, died on Aug. 17 in Branford, Conn. He was 83.
The cause was pulmonary congestion, his daughter Elizabeth Hollander said.
As a young poet, Mr. Hollander fell under the influence of W.H. Auden, whose experiments in fusing contemporary subject matter with traditional metric forms he emulated. It was Auden who selected Mr. Hollander's first collection of poems, "A Crackling of Thorns," for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, which published it in 1958 with an introduction by Auden.
Mr. Hollander's wit, inventiveness and intellectual range drew comparisons to Ben Jonson and 17th-century metaphysical poets like John Donne. The poet Richard Howard, in the 1969 book "Alone With America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950," praised "a technical prowess probably without equal in American verse today."
Early on, Mr. Hollander was tagged a formalist or neoclassicist for his commitment to old-fashioned forms. Beginning with his 1971 collection, "The Night Mirror: Poems," however, he adopted a much more ambitious program, writing poetry of formidable difficulty, often in longer forms.
This evolution culminated in "Spectral Emanations" (1978), a series of poetic visions and prose-poem commentaries linked to the seven branches of the menorah, the golden lamp stolen in A.D. 70 by Titus from the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
His wit and technical mastery remained on prominent display, however, in "The Powers of Thirteen," an extended sequence of 169 (13 times 13) unrhymed 13-line stanzas with 13 syllables in each line, and in "Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake" (1976), a commentary on contemporary poetry presented as the coded dispatches of a spy to his handler and other agents.
"In an age that came to prefer loose, garrulous poems filled with confessional sensationalism and political grievance, John Hollander was a glorious throwback," the poet J.D. McClatchy wrote in an email in 2010. "His materials -- high intelligence, wit, philosophical depth, technical virtuosity -- looked back to an older era of poetry's high ambition. His work never pandered; it astonished."
John Hollander was born on Oct. 28, 1929, in New York City.
Journalism was his enthusiasm early on, and in his freshman year at Columbia he was a prolific contributor to The Columbia Daily Spectator. But poetry displaced journalism as his primary passion. He struck up a close friendship, and a student-mentor relationship, with the somewhat older Allen Ginsberg.
Their joint excursion to sell blood at St. Luke's Hospital in New York provided the subject for "Helicon," one of the most engaging sequences in "Visions From the Ramble" (1965), a collection of interrelated poems filled with scenes from the author's childhood and youth in New York. (The title refers to a wooded area of Central Park.)
Mr. Hollander graduated from Columbia with a B.A. in 1950 and, after traveling in Europe, returned to the campus to work toward a master's degree, which he received in 1952.
He enrolled at Indiana University to pursue a doctorate but left in 1954 to join the Society of Fellows at Harvard. He later taught at Connecticut College and became an instructor at Yale in 1959, the year he completed his dissertation at Indiana.
His dissertation was the basis for "The Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry, 1500-1700" (1961), the first of many works of criticism.
Mr. Hollander, who lived in Woodbridge, Conn., joined the English faculty at Hunter College in New York in 1966. But in 1977 he returned as a full professor to Yale, where he was named Sterling Professor of English in 1995 and retired in 2002.