Yesterday in 1986 we lost John Ciardi, a literary Renaissance man—poet, educator, Dante translator, Saturday Review editor, television host, and, as a late-career pivot, radio personality. During the last decade of his life, Ciardi delivered monologues on the etymologies of words on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, some of which are still available for listening: you can hear Ciardi talk about the etymology of “Great Scott!” here and the etymology of “jimmies” here.
Ciardi was tapped for Morning Edition by Jay Kernis, a member of the original Morning Edition staff, along with writer Ellen Gilchrist and Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber, as Kernis hoped to build an audience for Morning Edition by hiring distinctive voices. And a distinctive voice Ciardi certainly has—literally. Listen below to hear Ciardi himself read his poem “Happiness”: