Hecht, Anthony (Vol. 13)
Hecht, Anthony 1923–
A Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, Hecht is a technically ingenious and accomplished craftsman who writes in an elegant, baroque style. A common theme of Hecht's—the ironic contrast between harsh reality and artistic (false) versions of reality—can be found in one of his frequently anthologized poems, the satirical "Dover Bitch." (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
The high artistry of Anthony Hecht has been to nurture his own gift, and to work at it with the deliberateness and steadiness that it deserved from him. A Summoning of Stones (1954) and The Hard Hours (1967) have now been joined by Millions of Strange Shadows…. Emotional intensity and formal power were combined in Hecht from his beginnings; if there has been a deepening in so elegant and grave an art, it has been in the release of a humor gentler than the initial ironies of apprehension that Hecht once cultivated. The 30 poems in Hecht's new book are all fully written, but several truly are the best he has published and are very likely to endure. The very best is "Green: An Epistle," which is a lesson in profound, controlled subjectivity and self-revelation, an exact antithesis to the opaque squalors of "confessional" poets. Almost equally remarkable are "Coming Home," in which the poet John Clare receives a deeper interpretation than any critic has afforded him, and "Apprehensions," again a masterwork of dramatic introspection. (p. 25)
Harold Bloom, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1977 by The New Republic, Inc.), November 26, 1977.
(The entire section is 192 words.)
G. E. Murray
Millions of Strange Shadows is only [Hecht's] third volume of original poetry in nearly three decades, the first since The Hard Hours (1967) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Anthony Hecht remains one of a shrinking handful of our most skilled poetic craftsmen. This is not to imply that his music overwhelms his substance, but the music is unforgettable. Listen, for instance, to one segment from "The Cost," a poem addressing the wages of war:
Think how some excellent, lean torso hugs
The brink of weight and speed,
Coasting the margins of those rival tugs
Down the thin path of friction,
The athlete's dancing vectors, the spirit's need,
And muscle's cleanly diction.
It strikes me that this passage, pinched out of context, not only opens discussion on the standards and values of human conflict, but also is descriptive of the finest of Hecht's writing. Surely his messages conform to media that ride "the brink of weight and speed" and address "the spirit's need" as precisely and delightfully as sail on water. But the melody of language disposed in startling patterns of rhyme and meter is only one concern here.
In what is supposedly the heydey of the loose style and personal...
(The entire section is 369 words.)
Anthony Hecht certainly practices the poetry of limits. Yet he often handles obnoxious subjects: a description of the rotting corpse of a monkey ("Alceste in the Wilderness"), the horrors of war ("Christmas Is Coming," "Drinking Song," etc.), the destruction of the Jews ("Rites and Ceremonies"), the Lisbon earthquake. One of his least forgettable poems tells of the capture, humiliation, torture, and flaying of the Roman emperor Valerian ("Behold the Lilies of the Field"). But he manages the frightfulness within a perceptible design….
When Hecht takes up quickening subjects—fatherhood, the praise of landscape, sexual tenderness—his sweet-and-sour tone gains force from hints that he also has in mind the death-bearing experiences. A knowledge of pain refines the edge of pleasure, as a knowledge of pleasure sharpens the acid of pain. It seems appropriate that Hecht likes to indulge in oxymoron: "dirge of birth" ("An Autumnal"), "awkward grace" ("Peripeteia")….
In many poems Hecht gives the quickening experience an advantage. He does not imply that life, for any long period, is free from pain. On the contrary, he implies that pain and grief mix so homogeneously with the stuff of existence that we may assume their omnipresence. Love, beauty, and wisdom do not cancel them out and do not spring from them (alas!) but descend as a gift in spite of them. The graces of life barely compensate us for the omnipresence of...
(The entire section is 361 words.)
[It] is the ability to make poems, the command of a convention, which is so impressive about Anthony Hecht's Millions of Strange Shadows…. Hecht makes no bones about it: he is formal, immensely skilful, gives himself whatever room he needs for elaborate description, extended discourse, intricacies of reference and overlapping complexities of theme. Conscious art is Hecht's forte, and it is an art which can encompass—in the single poem ('The Cost')—a couple on a Vespa, the processes of history, the common soldier's fate, the fallibility of hope … my list is not exhaustive. Hecht's themes are moral, in both personal and public spheres; his imagination is philosophical; his art is as serious as it is authoritative. But…. And here the problem starts: his command of art filters experience (quite con sciously so) to an extent which leaves me restless. I seek metaphors for what is wrong: the art is so finely inlaid, everything fits too well? It moves us through experience as if in a luxury car, observing the rough road, the changing weather? Somehow we are passengers in his poems…. Hecht does not strain, he opens his hand and images drop into it; cadence and balance and poise take their hold: but even granting that this is the opening—deceptively casual and leisurely—to an experience through which Hecht will take his time, something is slackened in our minds by such grace. Each epithet, descriptively perfect, is cushioned against...
(The entire section is 359 words.)