The Darkness and the Light: Poems By Anthony Hecht


Sarabande on Attaining the Age of Seventy-Seven

(The harbingers are come. See,
see their mark; White is their colour, and behold my head.)

“Long gone the smoke-and-pepper childhood smell
Of the smoldering immolation of the year,
Leaf-strewn in scattered grandeur where it fell.
Golden and poxed with frost, tarnished and sere.

And I myself have whitened in the weathers
Of heaped-up Januarys as they bequeath
The annual rings and wrongs that wring my withers,
Sober my thoughts and undermine my teeth.

The dramatis personae of our lives
Dwindle and wizen; familiar boyhood shames,
The tribulations one somehow survives,
Rise smokily from propitiatory flames

Of our forgetfulness until we find
It becomes strangely easy to forgive
Even ourselves with this clouding of the mind,
This cinerous blur and smudge in which we live.

A turn, a glide, a quarter-turn and bow,
The stately dance advances; these are airs
Bone-deep and numbing as I should know by now,
Diminishing the cast, like musical chairs.” 80 Mr. Hecht is a formalist, but that shouldn't stop you, he's brilliant, witty, and skewed just enough to be illuminating. 80 This was his last collection. I had the good fortune to see him read from this at Chapters Bookstore, in Washington, DC. He was a real class act. We got the chance to ask him some questions at the end of the reading, and I asked him who he preferred, Donne or Herbert? I guess I asked a good one, because he paused for a moment, and then said that when he was younger, Donne, but as he was getting older, he found he preferred Herbert. (The reason I asked the question was because I had a copy of The Essential Herbert, which was part of the great Essential Poets series put out by ECCO Press. Hecht wrote the introduction, and selected the poems for the Herbert entry.

Update. Meh. (Hey, it was a great reading!) I liked this one better than Flight Among the Tombs, but not by much. Hecht was a real pro, so you're going to find some good poems in this collection. My favorite was Circles, which is an absolutely heartbreaking poem about divorce and weekends w/ kids. Not exactely something I was expecting from Hecht. There are also several translations of poems by Baudelare, Charles d'Orleans, and others that I liked. On the downside are the numerous biblical poems, all of which read flat, as if Hecht was simply going through the motions. You'd get more poetry by going to the KJV. If you want to try Hecht, and he can be great, I strongly recommend his Hard Hours collection. 80 Clever, lots of myths and portrayals of fict-historical characters, which automatically puts most of these poems toward the top of my list. 80

The poetry of Anthony Hecht has been praised by Harold Bloom and Ted Hughes, among others, for its sure control of difficult material and its unique music and visual precision. This new volume is the fruit of a mellowing maturity that carries with it a smoky bitterness, a flavor of ancient and experienced wisdom, as in this stanza from “Sarabande on Attaining the Age of Seventy-seven”:

A turn, a glide, a quarter-turn and bow,
The stately dance advances; these are airs
Bone-deep and numbing as I should know
by now,
Diminishing the cast, like musical chairs.

Hecht’s verse—by turns lyric and narrative, formal and free—is grounded in the compassion that comes from a deep understanding of every kind of human depredation, yet is tempered by flashes of wry comedy, and still more by innocent pleasure in the gifts of the natural world. Followers of his poetry will recognize an evolution of style in many of these poems—a quiet and understated voice, passing through darkness toward realms of delight.

From the Hardcover edition. The Darkness and the Light: Poems

Free read The Darkness and the Light: Poems