Anthony Hecht

 

biographical notes

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.

from The Darkness & The Light, copyright Anthony Hecht 2001
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

WITNESS

Against the enormous rocks of a rough coast
The ocean rams itself in pitched assault
And spastic rage to which there is no halt;
Foam-white brigades collapse; but the huge host

Has infinite reserves; at each attack
The impassive cliffs look down in gray disdain
At scenes of sacrifice, unrelieved pain,
Figured in froth, aquamarine and black.

Something in the blood-chemistry of life,
Unspeakable, impressive, undeterred,
Expresses itself without needing a word
In this sea-crazed Empedoclean Strife.

It is a scene of unmatched melancholy,
Weather of misery, cloud cover of distress,
To which there are not witnesses, unless
One counts the briny, tough and thorned sea holly.

from The Darkness & The Light, copyright Anthony Hecht 2001
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 



Kathy Keler
Thread the Needle

alkyd, oil and acylic on paper, 45"x 30" (6 sections ); 2000
more of Kathy Keler's artwork

 

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.

from The Darkness & The Light, copyright Anthony Hecht 2001
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 

CURRICULUM VITAE

As though it were reluctant to be day,
.......Morning deploys a scale
.......Of rarities in gray,
And winter settles down in its chain-mail,

Victorious over legions of gold and red.
......The smokey souls of stones,
......Blunt pencillings of lead,
Pare down the world to glintless monotones

Of graveyard weather, vapors of a fen
.......We reckon through our pores.
.......Save for the garbage men,
Our children are the first ones out of doors.

Book-bagged and padded out, at mouth and nose
.......They manufacture ghosts,
.......George Washington's and Poe's,
Banquo's, the Union and Confederate hosts',

And are themselves the ghosts, file cabinet gray,
.......Of some departed us,
.......Signing our lives away
On ferned and parslied windows of a bus.

from The Transparent Man, copyright Anthony Hecht 1990
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 

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.

from The Hard Hours, copyright Anthony Hecht 1967
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 

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.

from Flight Among the Tombs, copyright Anthony Hecht 1996
used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 

 

 

Anthony Hecht is the author of seven books of poetry, among them The Hard Hours, which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1968, Flight Among the Tombs, and The Transparent Man. A new book, The Darkness and the Light, will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in June 2001. In 1984, he received the Eugenio Montale Award for a lifetime achievement in poetry, and in 2000 the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. He has written a critical study of the poetry of W. H. Auden, and On the Laws of the Poetic Art (Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts). He taught for some years at Bard College, the University of Rochester, and Georgetown University, and now lives in Washington, DC.