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Best Famous Anthony Hecht Poems

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Written by Anthony Hecht |

The Transparent Man

 I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs.
Curtis, And thank you very kindly for this visit-- Especially now when all the others here Are having holiday visitors, and I feel A little conspicuous and in the way.
It's mainly because of Thanksgiving.
All these mothers And wives and husbands gaze at me soulfully And feel they should break up their box of chocolates For a donation, or hand me a chunk of fruitcake.
What they don't understand and never guess Is that it's better for me without a family; It's a great blessing.
Though I mean no harm.
And as for visitors, why, I have you, All cheerful, brisk and punctual every Sunday, Like church, even if the aisles smell of phenol.
And you always bring even better gifts than any On your book-trolley.
Though they mean only good, Families can become a sort of burden.
I've only got my father, and he won't come, Poor man, because it would be too much for him.
And for me, too, so it's best the way it is.
He knows, you see, that I will predecease him, Which is hard enough.
It would take a callous man To come and stand around and watch me failing.
(Now don't you fuss; we both know the plain facts.
) But for him it's even harder.
He loved my mother.
They say she looked like me; I suppose she may have.
Or rather, as I grew older I came to look More and more like she must one time have looked, And so the prospect for my father now Of losing me is like having to lose her twice.
I know he frets about me.
Dr.
Frazer Tells me he phones in every single day, Hoping that things will take a turn for the better.
But with leukemia things don't improve.
It's like a sort of blizzard in the bloodstream, A deep, severe, unseasonable winter, Burying everything.
The white blood cells Multiply crazily and storm around, Out of control.
The chemotherapy Hasn't helped much, and it makes my hair fall out.
I know I look a sight, but I don't care.
I care about fewer things; I'm more selective.
It's got so I can't even bring myself To read through any of your books these days.
It's partly weariness, and partly the fact That I seem not to care much about the endings, How things work out, or whether they even do.
What I do instead is sit here by this window And look out at the trees across the way.
You wouldn't think that was much, but let me tell you, It keeps me quite intent and occupied.
Now all the leaves are down, you can see the spare, Delicate structures of the sycamores, The fine articulation of the beeches.
I have sat here for days studying them, And I have only just begun to see What it is that they resemble.
One by one, They stand there like magnificent enlargements Of the vascular system of the human brain.
I see them there like huge discarnate minds, Lost in their meditative silences.
The trunks, branches and twigs compose the vessels That feed and nourish vast immortal thoughts.
So I've assigned them names.
There, near the path, Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash.
This view, you see, has become my Hall of Fame, It came to me one day when I remembered Mary Beth Finley who used to play with me When we were girls.
One year her parents gave her A birthday toy called "The Transparent Man.
" It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, And the circulatory system all mapped out In rivers of red and blue.
She'd ask me over And the two of us would sit and study him Together, and do a powerful lot of giggling.
I figure he's most likely the only man Either of us would ever get to know Intimately, because Mary Beth became A Sister of Mercy when she was old enough.
She must be thirty-one; she was a year Older than I, and about four inches taller.
I used to envy both those advantages Back in those days.
Anyway, I was struck Right from the start by the sea-weed intricacy, The fine-haired, silken-threaded filiations That wove, like Belgian lace, throughout the head.
But this last week it seems I have found myself Looking beyond, or through, individual trees At the dense, clustered woodland just behind them, Where those great, nameless crowds patiently stand.
It's become a sort of complex, ultimate puzzle And keeps me fascinated.
My eyes are twenty-twenty, Or used to be, but of course I can't unravel The tousled snarl of intersecting limbs, That mackled, cinder grayness.
It's a riddle Beyond the eye's solution.
Impenetrable.
If there is order in all that anarchy Of granite mezzotint, that wilderness, It takes a better eye than mine to see it.
It set me on to wondering how to deal With such a thickness of particulars, Deal with it faithfully, you understand, Without blurring the issue.
Of course I know That within a month the sleeving snows will come With cold, selective emphases, with massings And arbitrary contrasts, rendering things Deceptively simple, thickening the twigs To frosty veins, bestowing epaulets And decorations on every birch and aspen.
And the eye, self-satisfied, will be misled, Thinking the puzzle solved, supposing at last It can look forth and comprehend the world.
That's when you have to really watch yourself.
So I hope that you won't think me plain ungrateful For not selecting one of your fine books, And I take it very kindly that you came And sat here and let me rattle on this way.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Curriculum Vitae

 1992

1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.
2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into confetti.
A loaf of bread cost a million marks.
Of course I do not remember this.
3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me.
The world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.
4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building with bells.
A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.
5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.
6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.
7) My country was struck by history more deadly than earthquakes or hurricanes.
8) My father was busy eluding the monsters.
My mother told me the walls had ears.
I learned the burden of secrets.
9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights of adolescence.
10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun and the moon across the ocean.
My grandparents stayed behind in darkness.
11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast.
Eventually I caught up with them.
12) When I met you, the new language became the language of love.
13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry.
The daughter became a mother of daughters.
14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it.
Knots tying threads to everywhere.
The past pushed away, the future left unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate present.
15) Years and years of this.
16) The children no longer children.
An old man's pain, an old man's loneliness.
17) And then my father too disappeared.
18) I tried to go home again.
I stood at the door to my childhood, but it was closed to the public.
19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone's face was younger than mine.
20) So far, so good.
The brilliant days and nights are breathless in their hurry.
We follow, you and I.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism Of Life

 So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc.
, etc.
" Well now, I knew this girl.
It's true she had read Sophocles in a fairly good translation And caught that bitter allusion to the sea, But all the time he was talking she had in mind the notion of what his whiskers would feel like On the back of her neck.
She told me later on That after a while she got to looking out At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad, Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry.
To have been brought All the way down from London, and then be addressed As sort of a mournful cosmic last resort Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room and finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit, And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that.
What I mean to say is, She's really all right.
I still see her once in a while And she always treats me right.
We have a drink And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year Before I see her again, but there she is, Running to fat, but dependable as they come, And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.
[Ed.
note: See Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach"]

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Lizards And Snakes

 On the summer road that ran by our front porch
 Lizards and snakes came out to sun.
It was hot as a stove out there, enough to scorch A buzzard's foot.
Still, it was fun To lie in the dust and spy on them.
Near but remote, They snoozed in the carriage ruts, a smile In the set of the jaw, a fierce pulse in the throat Working away like Jack Doyle's after he'd run the mile.
Aunt Martha had an unfair prejudice Against them (as well as being cold Toward bats.
) She was pretty inflexible in this, Being a spinster and all, and old.
So we used to slip them into her knitting box.
In the evening she'd bring in things to mend And a nice surprise would slide out from under the socks.
It broadened her life, as Joe said.
Joe was my friend.
But we never did it again after the day Of the big wind when you could hear the trees Creak like rocking chairs.
She was looking away Off, and kept saying, "Sweet Jesus, please Don't let him near me.
He's as like as twins.
He can crack us like lice with his fingernail.
I can see him plain as a pikestaff.
Look how he grins And swings the scaly horror of his folded tail.
"

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Chorus From Oedipus At Colonos

 What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful;
And as for pleasures, once beyond our prime,
They all drift out of reach, they are washed away.
And the same gaunt bailiff calls upon us all.
Summoning into Darkness, to those wards Where is no music, dance, or marriage hymn That soothes or gladdens.
To the tenements of Death.
Not to be born is, past all yearning, best.
And second best is, having seen the light.
To return at once to deep oblivion.
When youth has gone, and the baseless dreams of youth, What misery does not then jostle man's elbow, Join him as a companion, share his bread? Betrayal, envy, calumny and bloodshed Move in on him, and finally Old Age-- Infirm, despised Old Age--joins in his ruin, The crowning taunt of his indignities.
So is it with that man, not just with me.
He seems like a frail jetty facing North Whose pilings the waves batter from all quarters; From where the sun comes up, from where it sets, From freezing boreal regions, from below, A whole winter of miseries now assails him, Thrashes his sides and breaks over his head.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

The End Of The Weekend

 A dying firelight slides along the quirt
Of the cast iron cowboy where he leans
Against my father's books.
The lariat Whirls into darkness.
My girl in skin tight jeans Fingers a page of Captain Marriat Inviting insolent shadows to her shirt.
We rise together to the second floor.
Outside, across the lake, an endless wind Whips against the headstones of the dead and wails In the trees for all who have and have not sinned.
She rubs against me and I feel her nails.
Although we are alone, I lock the door.
The eventual shapes of all our formless prayers: This dark, this cabin of loose imaginings, Wind, lip, lake, everything awaits The slow unloosening of her underthings And then the noise.
Something is dropped.
It grates against the attic beams.
I climb the stairs Armed with a belt.
A long magnesium shaft Of moonlight from the dormer cuts a path Among the shattered skeletons of mice.
A great black presence beats its wings in wrath.
Above the boneyard burn its golden eyes.
Some small grey fur is pulsing in its grip.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

More Light! More Light!

 For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt
Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime.
" Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible, The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.
And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst; Permitted at least his pitiful dignity; And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ, That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.
We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.
Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill Nor light from heaven appeared.
But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.
Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came To dig him out again and to get back in.
No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.
No prayers or incense rose up in those hours Which grew to be years, and every day came mute Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air, And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Saul And David

 It was a villainous spirit, snub-nosed, foul
Of breath, thick-taloned and malevolent,
That squatted within him wheresoever he went
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And possessed the soul of Saul.
There was no peace on pillow or on throne.
In dreams the toothless, dwarfed, and squinny-eyed Started a joyful rumor that he had died .
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Unfriended and alone.
The doctors were confounded.
In his distress, he Put aside arrogant ways and condescended To seek among the flocks where they were tended .
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By the youngest son of Jesse, A shepherd boy, but goodly to look upon, Unnoticed but God-favored, sturdy of limb As Michelangelo later imagined him, .
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Comely even in his frown.
Shall a mere shepherd provide the cure of kings? Heaven itself delights in ironies such As this, in which a boy's fingers would touch .
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Pythagorean strings And by a modal artistry assemble The very Sons of Morning, the ranked and choired Heavens in sweet laudation of the Lord, .
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And make Saul cease to tremble.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

A Hill

 In Italy, where this sort of thing can occur,
I had a vision once - though you understand
It was nothing at all like Dante's, or the visions of saints,
And perhaps not a vision at all.
I was with some friends, Picking my way through a warm sunlit piazza In the early morning.
A clear fretwork of shadows From huge umbrellas littered the pavement and made A sort of lucent shallows in which was moored A small navy of carts.
Books, coins, old maps, Cheap landscapes and ugly religious prints Were all on sale.
The colors and noise Like the flying hands were gestures of exultation, So that even the bargaining Rose to the ear like a voluble godliness.
And then, where it happened, the noises suddenly stopped, And it got darker; pushcarts and people dissolved And even the great Farnese Palace itself Was gone, for all its marble; in its place Was a hill, mole-colored and bare.
It was very cold, Close to freezing, with a promise of snow.
The trees were like old ironwork gathered for scrap Outside a factory wall.
There was no wind, And the only sound for a while was the little click Of ice as it broke in the mud under my feet.
I saw a piece of ribbon snagged on a hedge, But no other sign of life.
And then I heard What seemed the crack of a rifle.
A hunter, I guessed; At least I was not alone.
But just after that Came the soft and papery crash Of a great branch somewhere unseen falling to earth.
And that was all, except for the cold and silence That promised to last forever, like the hill.
Then prices came through, and fingers, and I was restored To the sunlight and my friends.
But for more than a week I was scared by the plain bitterness of what I had seen.
All this happened about ten years ago, And it hasn't troubled me since, but at last, today, I remembered that hill; it lies just to the left Of the road north of Poughkeepsie; and as a boy I stood before it for hours in wintertime.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Prospects

 We have set out from here for the sublime
Pastures of summer shade and mountain stream;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.
Is all the green of that enameled prime A snapshot recollection or a dream? We have set out from here for the sublime Without provisions, without one thin dime, And yet, for all our clumsiness, I deem It certain that we shall arrive on time.
No guidebook tells you if you'll have to climb Or swim.
However foolish we may seem, We have set out from here for the sublime And must get past the scene of an old crime Before we falter and run out of steam, Riddled by doubt that we'll arrive on time.
Yet even in winter a pale paradigm Of birdsong utters its obsessive theme.
We have set out from here for the sublime; I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Lots Wife

 How simple the pleasures of those childhood days,
Simple but filled with exquisite satisfactions.
The iridescent labyrinth of the spider, Its tethered tensor nest of polygons Puffed by the breeze to a little bellying sail -- Merely observing this gave infinite pleasure.
The sound of rain.
The gentle graphite veil Of rain that makes of the world a steel engraving, Full of soft fadings and faint distances.
The self-congratulations of a fly, Rubbing its hands.
The brown bicameral brain Of a walnut.
The smell of wax.
The feel Of sugar to the tongue: a delicious sand.
One understands immediately how Proust Might cherish all such postage-stamp details.
Who can resist the charms of retrospection?

Written by Anthony Hecht |

A Letter

 I have been wondering
 What you are thinking about, and by now suppose
 It is certainly not me.
But the crocus is up, and the lark, and the blundering Blood knows what it knows.
It talks to itself all night, like a sliding moonlit sea.
Of course, it is talking of you.
At dawn, where the ocean has netted its catch of lights, The sun plants one lithe foot On that spill of mirrors, but the blood goes worming through Its warm Arabian nights, Naming your pounding name again in the dark heart-root.
Who shall, of course, be nameless.
Anyway, I should want you to know I have done my best, As I'm sure you have, too.
Others are bound to us, the gentle and blameless Whose names are not confessed In the ceaseless palaver.
My dearest, the clear unquaried blue Of those depths is all but blinding.
You may remember that once you brought my boys Two little woolly birds.
Yesterday the older one asked for you upon finding Your thrush among his toys.
And the tides welled about me, and I could find no words.
There is not much else to tell.
One tries one's best to continue as before, Doing some little good.
But I would have you know that all is not well With a man dead set to ignore The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Curriculum Vitae

 As though it were reluctant to be day,
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Morning deploys a scale .
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Of rarities in gray, And winter settles down in its chain-mail, Victorious over legions of gold and red.
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The smokey souls of stones, .
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Blunt pencillings of lead, Pare down the world to glintless monotones Of graveyard weather, vapors of a fen .
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We reckon through our pores.
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Save for the garbage men, Our children are the first ones out of doors.
Book-bagged and padded out, at mouth and nose .
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They manufacture ghosts, .
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George Washington's and Poe's, Banquo's, the Union and Confederate hosts', And are themselves the ghosts, file cabinet gray, .
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Of some departed us, .
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Signing our lives away On ferned and parslied windows of a bus.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Late Afternoon: The Onslaught Of Love

 For William and Emily Maxwell

At this time of day
One could hear the caulking irons sound
Against the hulls in the dockyard.
Tar smoke rose between trees And large oily patches floated on the water, Undulating unevenly In the purple sunlight Like the surfaces of Florentine bronze.
At this time of day Sounds carried clearly Through hot silences of fading daylight.
The weedy fields lay drowned In odors of creosote and salt.
Richer than double-colored taffeta, Oil floated in the harbor, Amoeboid, iridescent, limp.
It called to mind the slender limbs Of Donatello's David.
It was lovely and she was in love.
They had taken a covered boat to one of the islands.
The city sounds were faint in the distance: Rattling of carriages, tumult of voices, Yelping of dogs on the decks of barges.
At this time of day Sunlight empurpled the world.
The poplars darkened in ranks Like imperial servants.
Water lapped and lisped In its native and quiet tongue.
Oakum was in the air and the scent of grasses.
There would be fried smelts and cherries and cream.
Nothing designed by Italian artisans Would match this evening's perfection.
The puddled oil was a miracle of colors.

Written by Anthony Hecht |

Third Avenue In Sunlight

 Third Avenue in sunlight.
Nature's error.
Already the bars are filled and John is there.
Beneath a plentiful lady over the mirror He tilts his glass in the mild mahogany air.
I think of him when he first got out of college, Serious, thin, unlikely to succeed; For several months he hung around the Village, Boldly T-shirtet, unfettered but unfreed.
Now he confides to a stranger, "I was first scout, And kept my glimmers peeled till after dark.
Our outfit had as its sign a bloody knout, We met behind the museum in Central Park.
Of course, we were kids.
" But still those savages, War-painted, a flap of leather at the loins, File silently against him.
Hostages Are never taken.
One summer, in Des Moines, They entered his hotel room, tomahawks Flashing like barracuda.
He tried to pray.
Three years of treatment.
Occasionally he talks About how he almost didn't get away.
Daily the prowling sunlight whets its knife Along the sidewalk.
We almost never meet.
In the Rembrandt dark he lifts his amber life.
My bar is somewhat further down the street.