Louis Untermeyer, 92, the poet, wit and anthologist who was perhaps this century's most notable friend and popularizer of British and American poets and poetry, died yesterday at his home in Newton, Conn.
The author or compiler of at least 150 books, Mr. Untermeyer was a loquacious, enthusiastic man with a zest for life and a passion for poetry that encompassed both the work of the Betniks and the slogans on Burma Shave signs.
Regarded for years as a moving force in American letters, he was particularly known for his friendship with Robert Frost whose work he was instrumental in introducing in the United States.
A high school droupout, an admirer of puns and slang, he was one of the principal influences on the molding of American poetic tastes, and if he was not infallible (de dismissed T. S. elliot in 1919 as inept) he was nevertheless invaluable, serving as an early champion of such figures as Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell and Stephen Vincent Benet.
The poetry consultant to the Library of Congress from 1961 to 1963, Mr. Untermeyer described himself as "a bone collector" with "the mind of a magpie."
Married four times and divorced three, Mr. Untermeyer has a turbulent personal life. In a law suit filed in 1949 by one of his wives, he was called at the age of 63, "still an invetcrate anthologist, collecting wives with an eye always open for new editions."
Many of his literary anthologies went into edition after edition and were adopted as school and college textbooks.
"Modern American verse", first published in 1919 and later retitled "Modern American Poets," together with "Modern British Poetry" (1920), went on to sell well over one million copies.
More than a skillful compiler, Mr. Untermeyer was a shrewd and enthusiastic critic, with a gift for conveying his own poetic insights and appreciations to a wide range of readers.
A compulsive writers with a reputation of his own as a series poet, he was also an irrepressible talker.
An aquiline-nosed, hazel-eyed, 5-foot, 7-inch naive of New York City, Mr. Untermeyer was described by one observer as looking and sounding like a "staccato eagle."
Asking him a question about poetry was likened "pulling your finger out of the dike in Holland." The words flowed in torrents.
On the problems of poetry at the outset of the 1960s: "We are caught between the highbrows being derisive of popular poetry and the people being derisive of highbrow poetry."
On speed reading: "rapid reading is for people who can't read in the first place so that they can retain even less than they did before."
On the beatniks: "Thev've gone about as far as they can, having used up all the four letter words. There is a great deal of disorder in modern poetry because there is disorder in the world. But art must shape order out of chaos."
And on the connection between Burma Shave signs and what he perceived to be popular thirst for poetry:
"There is supposed to be a basic prejudice agaist poetry; it's too esoteric, too highbrow, or any of those other words you find in Roget's Thesaurus. What most of us don't realize is that everyone loves poetry. They have it everywhere - Burma Shave, for instance - good rhymes, perfect rhythm, which could not be better if Pope himself had written them."
The son of a jewelry manufacturer and a Southern-born mother of cultured tastes, Mr. Untermeyer grew up in comfortable circumstances on Manhattan's upper East Side.
When he left high school at 15, out of conviction that he could never master geometry, he intended to become a composer or concert pianist.
While music remained an avocation, he entered his father's business at 16, devoting himself to jewelry by day and writing at night. Finally after 20 years during which he became a vice president and factory manager, he left the business to concentrate on literature and lecturing.
An experimenter in light verse during his late adolescene, Mr. Untermeyer saw his first book of lyrics, "First Love," published in 1911, with his father's financial backing.
Other volumes followed, including "Challenge" (1914), when emphasized poems of social protest and which may have laid the groundwork for the charges of radicalism lodged against him in the Communist-hunting, 1950s.
Although Mr. Untermey denied membership in any subversive group, the charges were reported as playing a role in his 1952 departure from the television panel show "What's My Line?" of which he was an original member.
Versatile as well as prolific, Mr. Untermeyer won praise for his parodies, wrote stories for children and established a reputation as a translator and biographer of the German poet Heinrich Heine.
At various times he served as contributing editor of "Masses," "Seven Arts" and "Liberator" magazines! He was poetry editor of the "American Mercury" from 1934 to 1937.
He received a number of honorary college degrees, and in 1956 was named Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard and as recipient of the gold medal of the Poetry Society of America, for services to poetry.
During World War II, he first was senior editor of publications with the Office of War Information, then an editor for Armed Services Editions.
Scores of would-be poets beseeched him for advice. Although he bore the scars of personal problems. Mr. Untermeyer seemed a warm and generous man who sought in his replies to be evasive rather than abrasive.
"I tell them not to worry about being published because poetry, like virtue, is its own reward, or some junk like that," he once was quoted as having said.
An inhabitant of the world of letters since the early years of the 20th century, Mr. Untermeyer maintained strong ties to many of its leading figures. Close friends included not only Frost and Pound, but also Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, H. L. Mencken, Arthur Miller and D. H. Lawrence.
Such celebrated figures fill the pages of Mr. Untermeyer's two autobiographies, "From Another World" (1939) and "Bygones" (1965).
The latter also devoted considerable attention to his four marriages, to Jean Starr, Virginia Moore, Esther Antin of four sons and at leat 11 grandchildren.