Selected Poems (Borzoi Poetry)
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Alongside Wallace Stevens, James Merrill, and other pillars of twentieth-century poetry, Anthony Hecht joins the Borzoi Poetry series.
Hecht, whose writing rings with the cadences of the King James Bible, and who, as an infantryman at the end of World War II, participated in the liberation of the concentration camps, lived and experienced the best and worst of the twentieth century. Readers of this volume—the first selected poems to be made from Hecht’s seven individual volumes—will be captivated by Hecht’s dark music and allusions to the literature of the past. As J. D. McClatchy explains in his introduction, Hecht was a poet for whom formal elegance was inextricably bound up with the dramatic force, thematic ambition, and powerful emotions in each poem. The rules of his art, which he both honored and transformed, are “moral principles meant finally to reveal the structure of human dilemmas and sympathies.”
This elevated sense of what poetry can accomplish defines our experience of reading Hecht, and will ensure his place in the canon for years to come.
Adam and Eve knew such perfection once,
God’s finger in the cloud, and on the ground
Nothing but springtime, nothing else at all.
But in our fallen state where the blood hunts
For blood, and rises at the hunting sound,
What do we know of lasting since the fall?
Who has not, in the oil and heat of youth,
Thought of the flourishing of the almond tree,
The grasshopper, and the failing of desire,
And thought his tongue might pierce the secrecy
Of the six-pointed starlight, and might choir
A secret-voweled, unutterable truth?
—from “A Poem for Julia”
was served. I was alone. Mornings, of course, it’s we who get the light, An especially tender light, hopeful and soft. I stood beside a table near a window, Gazing down at a crystal bowl of grapes In ice-water. They were green grapes, or, rather, They were a sort of pure, unblemished jade, Like turbulent ocean water, with misted skins, Their own pale, smoky sweat, or tiny frost. I leaned over the table, letting the sun Fall on my forearm, contemplating them. Reflections of the water
Mental Hospital where he stayed Almost a year before, by merest chance, A visitor of Lithuanian background Heard and identified his Lettish speech, And it could be determined that he was In full possession of his faculties, If of little else, and where he had come from And all the rest of it. The Toledo police Then wrote my uncle a letter. Without unduly Stressing their own casualness in the matter, They told my uncle where his brother was, How he had come to be there, and that because
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
dusk From a small chimney among leafless trees. The paths are empty, the weeds bent and dead; Winter has taken hold. And what, my dear, Does this remind you of? You are surprised By the familiar manner, the easy, sure Intimacy of my address. You wonder, Whose curious voice is this? Why should that scene Seem distantly familiar? Did something happen Back in my youth on a deserted path Late on some unremembered afternoon? And now you’ll feel at times a fretful nagging At the back of
is that now, as you’re about To eat or light a cigarette, something Passes too swiftly before you can take aim, Passes in furtive silence, in disguise, Glimpsed only hazily in retrospect— Like a clock’s strokes recounted once they’re done, Never with confidence. And now you’re angry At what you think of as my long digression When in fact it’s the eclipses of your mind, Those sink-holes, culverts, cisterns long avoided As dangerous, where the actual answer lies. As for my indirection,