Vincent Godfrey Burns, 86, the official poet laureate of Maryland and a controversial figure who withstood several attempts to oust him from his unpaid post, was found dead over the weekend at his home in Epping Forest.
Police in Anne Arundel County said Mr. Burns, a poet whose talents were sometimes disputed, had been dead for two or three days. A county medical examiner attributed the death to heart failure.
Police entered Mr. Burns home on Saturday at the request of a neighbor who had been unable to contact him. He was found seated in a chair in front of a television set.
The author of more than 30 books, plays and collections of verse, Mr. Burns was named poet laureate for life on June 16, 1962, by Gov. J. Millard Tawes.
This did not protect him from efforts to replace him, but he challenged these vigorously. On one such occasion he charged that the attempt to remove him stemmed from a clique of "leftists and atheists" in the Maryland State Poetry Society.
The "clique," he asserted, wished to "liquidate my literary reputation and possibly terminate my life."
Mr. Burns was an ordained Congregationalist minister and a selfdescribed "dedicated patriot," whose political and religious convictions were often visible in his verse.
His works included rhyming denunciations of the Americans for Democratic Action and an ode to George P. Mahoney, a conservative Maryland politician and frequent candidate for office.
Among Mr. Burns' other published works were "Female Convict," which he said sold a million copies in 1939, and "I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," on which the celebrated movie starring Paul Muni was based.
Two years ago when the Maryland legislature began to consider the justification for Mr. Burns' $1,000 a year appropriation for expenses, the quantity of his poetic output was questioned.
One official contended that Mr. Burns had published only two poems during 1976.
'He's crazy," replied Mr. Burns, who declared that among his 1976 works was a book of bicentennial poetry that included 150 of his poems and was "the finest thing of its kind that's published in America."
Officially, Burns was paid expenses to compose sonnets for such state occasions as the governor's birthday and other days of public concern.
Mr. Burns had achieved some notoriety in the 1930s when he shouted "this man is innocent" in the New Jersey courtroom in which Bruno Richard Hauptmann was being tried for the kidnaping of the Lindbergh baby.
Within a few years after being named poet laureate he aroused stiff opposition among members of the Maryland Poetry Society who contended that he had made "a joke" of literature.
A stormy showdown came at an election of society officers on Nov. 20, 1966.
Dissidents sought Mr. Burns' ouster as president, a step seen as leading to his removal as laureate.
In a stormy session at which Mr. Burns charged his detractors with being "pro-Communists," he backed another candidate for society president, and ran himself for honorary president of the society, a job traditionally held by Maryland's governor.
Pitted against Spiro T. Agnew in the contest for honorary president, Mr. Burns won, 57 to 28.
Eventually, however, the presidential candidate backed by Mr. Burns cast his lot with the dissidents. In 1968 tradition was observed and Agnew replaced Mr. Burns as honorary president.
The connection between Mr. Burns and the poetry society was severed but his followers formed a rival group, the Maryland Citizens Poetry Society, and he remained the state laureate.
Challenges to him continued, however, and in 1971 he appeared before a legislative committee to oppose a bill designed to purge him.
"This is my life," he said. "If they take this office away from me my life would be over."
His pleas carried the day.