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Best Famous Anthony Hecht Poems


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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?


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.


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
.......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
.......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
.......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,
.......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
.......Pythagorean strings

And by a modal artistry assemble
The very Sons of Morning, the ranked and choired
Heavens in sweet laudation of the Lord,
.......And make Saul cease to tremble.


by Anthony Hecht |

Sarabande On Attaining The Age Of Seventy-Seven

 The harbingers are come. See, see their mark;
White is their colour; and behold my head.
 -- George Herbert

Long gone the smoke-and-pepper childhood smell
Of the smoldering immolation of the year,
Leaf-strewn in scattered grandeur where it fell,
Golden and poxed with frost, tarnished and sere.

And I myself have whitened in the weathers
Of heaped-up Januaries as they bequeath
The annual rings and wrongs that wring my withers,
Sober my thoughts, and undermine my teeth.

The dramatis personae of our lives
Dwindle and wizen; familiar boyhood shames,
The tribulations one somehow survives,
Rise smokily from propitiatory flames

Of our forgetfulness until we find
It becomes strangely easy to forgive
Even ourselves with this clouding of the mind,
This cinerous blur and smudge in which we live.

A turn, a glide, a quarter turn and bow,
The stately dance advances; these are airs
Bone-deep and numbing as I should know by now,
Diminishing the cast, like musical chairs.


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.


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.


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"]


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."


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.


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.