An American writer, scholar, and critic, he published eight books, including A House Too Old and William Blake: The Politics of Vision.
After receiving his Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he taught at Dartmouth, Harvard, and the University of California, Berkeley.
He was honored with three Guggenheim Fellowships.
He grew up in Wisconsin. He and his wife Ruth had one son together.
He is a character in the 2010 film Howl, which stars James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.