Stanley Plumly, a poet and University of Maryland professor who served as the state’s poet laureate for nine years and also published well-regarded nonfiction studies on literary and artistic subjects, died April 11 at his home in Frederick, Md. He was 79.
The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, said his wife, Margaret Plumly.
Mr. Plumly published several volumes of poetry, drawing on his roots in rural Ohio and his lifelong devotion to John Keats and other Romantic poets of the early 19th century.
In 1985, he joined the faculty at the University of Maryland, where he founded the graduate program in creative writing, which he led until shortly before his death. He was Maryland’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2018.
Mr. Plumly’s poetry drew on images of nature and the sometimes dark and troubled memories of his youth. He wrote longingly and sometimes with brutal honesty about his parents, especially his rough and alcoholic father, who died when he was 56: “Who knows if my heartbroken father was meant / to last longer than his last good drunk.”
In another painful recollection, Mr. Plumly wrote that he and other family members “saw even in my father’s face how well he understood the pain / he put them to.”
Describing his beleaguered mother, Mr. Plumly wrote in “Summer Celestial”:
I wish I could tell her how to talk herself to sleep.
I wish. She says she’s afraid she won’t make it back.
As in a prayer, she is more afraid of loneliness than death.
Mr. Plumly won many honors for his poetry, and his 2007 volume, “Old Heart: Poems,” was a finalist for a National Book Award. In later years, he turned to nonfiction prose, writing three well-regarded meditations on poetry and art that brought him widespread acclaim.
He called his 2008 book, “Posthumous Keats,” a “personal biography” of the poet, who was 25 when he died in 1821 of tuberculosis. Keats believed that he and his writing would be forgotten, and on his deathbed he dictated his epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
“He feared he had failed,” Mr. Plumly wrote, “his body brought down by disease, his poems belittled by Tory critics. But he also knew something: Trust the writing.”
Mr. Plumly spent years on the book, traveling to Keats’s home in London, visiting libraries and even renting an apartment above the room in which Keats died in Rome.
In seven chapters, each containing seven sections, he described Keats’s relationships with friends, family members and his girlfriend, Fanny Brawne. Mostly, however, Mr. Plumly explored the notion of artistic integrity and personal vision, borne out by Keats’s latter-day recognition as one the finest lyric poets in the English language.
The result was an “obsessive, intricate, intimate and brilliant new book,” poet and journalist Ted Genoways wrote in a review of “Posthumous Keats” in The Post.
“Plumly shows us . . . how passionately engaged he is — with the life he is writing, the poems he is explicating, the era he is recreating,” Genoways wrote.
“His is a book worthy of Keats — full of feeling and drama and those fleeting moments we call genius.”
In 2014, Mr. Plumly published another book featuring Keats, “The Immortal Evening,” which described an 1817 dinner party at the London home of artist Benjamin Haydon. Keats met poet William Wordsworth for the first time at the party, which also included Haydon, writer Charles Lamb and explorer Joseph Ritchie.
Mr. Plumly reimagined the spirit and the conversation at the dinner party in what Post book critic Michael Dirda called a “wide-ranging, digressive, lyrical, meditative, repetitive and deeply considered book. Do not, in any way, expect “The Immortal Evening” to be a bright, sparkly account of a bright, sparkly dinner party. This is, in fact, an essay on mortality as much as immortality.”
At the party, Keats heard about the Elgin marbles, thee ancient Greek sculptures from the Parthenon that had recently been brought to England, which became one of his poetic inspirations.
“These Greek classical models will prove, existentially,” Mr. Plumly wrote, “that poetry can be an act of transparency to the forces behind it, beauty naked in the presence of truth, though, first there must be truth.”
Stanley Ross Plumly was born May 23, 1939, in Barnesville, Ohio. He spent his first seven years in Winchester, Va., before his family moved to Piqua, Ohio. His father was a carpenter, welder and lumber worker.
He described his mother as “the woman who loved / clean floors and rain / on the streets after dark — / who knelt at my ear, / night after night, / whose story / could break your heart / if you listened.”
Mr. Plumly said his twin obsessions during his youth were basketball and reading. He graduated in 1961 from Wilmington College in Ohio, then did graduate work at Ohio University.
He published his first book of poetry in 1970 and taught at the University of Iowa, Princeton University, Columbia University and the University of Houston before coming to the University of Maryland.
He edited the Ohio Review and the Iowa Review and several anthologies of poetry. In 2018, he published “Elegy Landscapes: Constable and Turner and the Intimate Sublime,” in which he examined the artistic temperaments of British painters John Constable and J.M.W. Turner.
Describing his inspirations as a writer, Mr. Plumly told a University of Maryland student journalist in 2009: “You get a line, you get an image. There is a memory that won’t leave you alone. And then you go after those things. If that’s inspiration, then okay.”
His marriages to Hope Plumly and poet Deborah Digges ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of nine years, the former Margaret Forian of Frederick; two stepdaughters, Elizabeth Stevenson of Longmont, Colo., and Mackenzie Sconyers of Crawfordville, Fla.; and a sister.
Mr. Plumly, who taught poetry workshops and courses on the Romantic era at U-Md. through last fall, recently completed a volume of new poems. A collection of his selected poetry is also expected to be published soon.
“How little survives us but words,” Mr. Plumly wrote in “Posthumous Keats,” “and words on words.’’
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Mr. Plumly received a master’s degree from Ohio University.