Hecht, Anthony (Evan)
HECHT, Anthony (Evan)
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 16 January 1923. Education: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, B.A. 1944; Columbia University, New York, M.A. 1950. Military Service: U.S. Army during World War II. Family: Married 1) Patricia Harris in 1954 (divorced 1961), two sons; 2) Helen D'Alessandro in 1971, one son. Career: Taught at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 1947; University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1948; New York University, 1949; Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1956–59; Bard College, 1962–67; member of the department of English, Rochester University, New York, from 1967; poetry consultant, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1982–84; University Professor, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1985–93. Fulbright Professor in Brazil, 1971; Hurst Professor, Washington University, St. Louis, 1971; visiting professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973, and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1977; member of the faculty, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1977. Trustee, American Academy in Rome, Italy, 1983–91. Awards: American Academy in Rome fellowship, 1951; Guggenheim fellowship, 1954, 1959; Hudson Review fellowship, 1958; Ford fellowship, for drama, 1960, for verse, 1968; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1964; Rockefeller fellowship, 1967; Loines award, 1968; Pulitzer prize, 1968; Academy of American Poets fellowship, 1969; Bollingen prize, 1983; Eugenio Montale award, 1983; Monroe award, 1987; Ruth Lilly prize, 1988; Tanning award for poetry, 1997. D.Litt.: Bard College, 1970; L.H.D.: Georgetown University, 1981; Towson State University, Maryland, 1983; Rochester University, 1987. Member: Chancellor, Academy of American Poets, 1971; American Academy of Arts and Letters; American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Address: 4256 Nebraska Avenue, N.W., Washington. D.C. 20016, U.S.A.
A Summoning of Stones. New York, Macmillan, 1954.
The Seven Deadly Sins. Northampton, Massachusetts, Gehenna Press, 1958.
Struwwelpeter. Northampton, Massachusetts, Gehenna Press, 1958.
A Bestiary, illustrated by Aubrey Schwartz. Los Angeles, Kanthos Press, 1962.
The Hard Hours. New York, Atheneum, and London, Oxford University Press, 1967.
Aesopic: Twenty Four Couplets… Northampton, Massachusetts, Gehenna Press, 1967.
Millions of Strange Shadows. New York, Atheneum, and London, Oxford University Press, 1977.
The Venetian Vespers. Boston, Godine, 1979; expanded version, New York, Atheneum, 1979; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980.
A Love for Four Voices: Homage to Franz Joseph Haydn. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Penmaen Press, 1983.
Collected Earlier Poems. New York, Knopf, 1990.
The Transparent Men. New York, Knopf, 1990.
Flight among the Tombs. New York, Knopf, and London, Oxford University Press, 1996.
The Pathetic Fallacy (lecture). Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1985.
Obbligati: Essays in Criticism. New York, Atheneum, 1986.
The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1993.
Editor, with John Hollander, Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls. New York, Atheneum, 1967.
Editor, Second Sight: Poems by Jonathan Aaron. New York, Harper, 1982.
Editor, Eve Names the Animals by Susan Donnelly. Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1985.
Editor, The Essential Herbert. New York, Ecco Press, 1987.
Translator, with Helen Bacon, Seven Against Thebes, by Aeschylus. New York, Oxford University Press, 1973.
Translator, Poem upon the Lisbon Disaster, by Voltaire. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Penmaen, 1977.*
Bibliography: Anthony Hecht in Conversation with Philip Hoy by Philip Hoy, Stonington, Connecticut, Between the Lines, n.d.
Critical Studies: The Burdens of Formality: Essays on the Poetry of Anthony Hecht edited by Sydney Lea, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1989; Dramatic Strategies in the Poetry of Robert Lowell, Richard Howard, and Anthony Hecht (dissertation), University of Toronto, 1990, and "'"Laws that Stand for Other Laws': Anthony Hecht's Dramatic Strategy," in Essays in Literature (Macomb, Illinois), 21 (2), fall 1994, both by Geoffrey Woolmer Lindsay; "Forms of Conviction" by Henry Taylor, in Southern Review (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 (1), winter 1991; "On Anthony Hecht" by John Hollander, in Raritan (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 17 (1), summer 1997.* * *
Anthony Hecht is a gifted craftsman who blends image, rhythm, and idea into rich and subtle music. His work shows imperial command over the energies of word, line, and stanza. Hecht's talents are on full display in early poems like "La Condition Botanique" and "The Gardens of the Villa D'Este," intricate, witty tours de force, lavish of image and allusion, filled with striking turns of thought. Witness one stanza from the latter poem:
The intricate mesh of trees,
Sagging beneath a lavender snow
Of wisteria, wired by creepers, perfectly knit
A plot to capture alive the migrant, tourist soul
In its corporeal home with all the deft control
And artifice of an Hephaestus' net.
Sunlight and branch rejoice to show
Here the verbal music and the profusion of sound and color perfectly convey the poet's manifold delight in the garden, in its primitive hypnotic power ordered by the formal aesthetics of the artistic imagination. The allusion to Hephaestus's net, which trapped Ares and Aphrodite in flagrante delicto, gives mythological license to the garden as home of earthly pleasure and hints also at the paradox of incarnation. Such richness of texture is characteristic of Hecht, though in later works, notably in The Hard Hours and in Millions of Strange Shadows, he sometimes writes with simplicity and directness. Early and late, elegant seriousness often combines with colloquial jest to surprise and delight.
Hecht's poetry achieves its distinctive weight and eloquence by frequently recalling biblical and classical passages and motifs as well as many ancient and modern authors. Plato, Sophocles, Ronsard, du Bellay, Milton, Swift, Baudelaire, Yeats, and Stevens, for example, all contribute their voices to his polyphonous harmonies. Hecht writes in various metrical patterns and stanzaic forms—the double dactyl, sonnet, double sonnet, sestina, blank verse, to name just a few—and demonstrates time and again superb balance, discipline, and control, in a word, complete technical mastery.
Important subjects for Hecht's poetry include the love of men and women and of parents for children, the tense union of flesh and spirit, and the Holocaust. On this last topic Hecht has written a number of profound and searching poems. "More Light! More Light!" portrays victims who betray each other, thus extinguishing all hope for human dignity; "Rites and Ceremonies" meditates de profundis on human suffering and biblical promise; "It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It," features a father's rueful reflection that, despite his children's admiration of him, "Half God, half Santa Claus," he "could not, at one time, /Have saved them from the gas"; "The Feast of Stephen" sharply perceives the relations between the cults of athleticism and Nazism. In lighter moments Hecht parodies Matthew Arnold in "The Dover Bitch," humorously considers the seduction of a young admirer in "The Ghost in the Martini," and regales the Guggenheim Foundation with "Application for a Grant" (freely from Horace), which closes thus:
As for me, the prize for poets, the simple gift
For amphybrachs strewn by a kind Euterpe,
With perhaps a laurel crown of the evergreen
Imperishable of your fine endowment
Would supply my modest wants, who dream of nothing
But a pad on Eighth Street and your approbation.
The Venetian Vespers features several long poems and versions of Joseph Brodsky. The title poem is a lengthy monologue by an expatriate American on the decadent ruins of Venice. He meditates on the transformation of garbage into the "admirable and shatterable triumph" of Murano glassware. He ponders the processes of birth, death, and decay, the relationship between art and life, the movements of memory and aspiration. The corrupt and dirty city affords no pleasant garden to meditate in at eventide, no cure for "something profoundly soiled, pointlessly hurt," no ablution or "impossible reprieve, /Unpurchased at a scaffold, free, bequeathed /As rain upon the just and unjust, /As in the fall of mercy, unconstrained, /Upon the poor, infected place beneath." Instead he finds the neighborhood Madonna, "Sister Mary Paregoric, Comforter," and the momentary refuge of a thunderstorm wherein "one takes no thought whatever of tomorrow, /The soul being drenched in fine particulars." As the poignant statement of a man "who was never even at one time a wise child," the poem brilliantly reflects modern confusion, neurosis, and despair.