Books by Anthony Hecht

Released: June 28, 2001

"No contemporary poet is so lapidary as Hecht. That he can put such beauty at the service of a stringent ethic is his continual gift."
A fiercely melancholic sequence of lyrics, odes, monologues, and translations, many of them written with the Biblical tales in mind. The severe rhythms and wild rhymes ("guano" is made to chime with "soprano") make wonderfully baroque patterns—Bach partitas set stylishly to words. But music is only part of the festivities offered in Hecht's work. His poems are also painterly, full of still lives, landscapes, and jewel-box miniatures. Lot's wife remembers the "exquisite satisfactions" of her childhood in this way: "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." Hecht often figures the poet as a witness, and the infinite pleasures of observation are always mixed with more difficult moral concerns like passivity, historical atrocity, and individual despair. In "A Witness," a "briny, tough, and thorned sea holly" watches as "The ocean rams itself in pitched assault / And spastic rage to which there is no halt . . . / At scenes of sacrifice, unrelieved pain, / figured in froth, aquamarine and black." That pain should go unrelieved is Hecht's way of acknowledging poetry's limits and history's wounds; the tough holly is his protest against both. Another tactic for combating forgetfulness is to resurrect a voice. Hecht's most well known poem of this type is "The Maid of Dover" (after Arnold), and in the new collection he approaches those heights with the savage "Judith": "It was easy. Holofernes was pretty tight; / I had only to show some cleavage and he was done for." Read full book review >
ON THE LAWS OF THE POETIC ART by Anthony Hecht
NONFICTION
Released: June 1, 1995

Published as part of the distinguished Bollingen series, this volume collects the six A.W. Mellon Lectures that Hecht (The Hidden Law, not reviewed, etc.) presented at Washington's National Gallery of Art in 1992. It's difficult to imagine that these academically complex sentences and paragraphs were ever read aloud. Rambling, extremely unfocused, they attempt to locate poetry in relation to the wider humanities environment, yet too often poetry seems the farthest thing from the speaker's mind: In ``Poetry and Painting,'' he speaks mainly of geometry's connection with the graphic arts; he is two-thirds of the way through ``Poetry and Music'' before there is any indication of interaction between the two arts or any shared relevance. Hecht states that he relies with all his trust upon what he knows as a practicing poet. Then he proceeds, through the first three lectures, to rely instead on the opinions of masters (Milton, Jonson, Plutarch), citing letters and well-known critical works as if he himself has no function other than to gather and present. Perhaps it's just as well. When he does venture out on his own, Hecht confronts readers with dry analysis reminiscent of high school English classes. In only two lectures—``Public and Private Art'' and ``Art and Morality''—do readers encounter the contemporary practitioner Hecht declares himself to be, but even then he exposes himself as a 70-year-old Pulitzer Prizewinning writer who has spent a good portion of his most creative years within cloistered universities. As if to prove this the case, Hecht makes stodgy criticisms of a New Yorker poem by an NEA grantee, which, set against the backdrop of heated controversy over the endowment, inadvertently fuels the battle waged by Senator Helms and his supporters. Avid literature readers would do better to form their own opinions on the poetic art. Read full book review >