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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.

Poem by Anthony Hecht
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