poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

January 24, 1991Pierpont Morgan LibraryFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Anthony Hecht was born in New York City in 1923. His books of poetry include The Darkness and the Light (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001); Flight Among the Tombs (1996); The Transparent Man (1990); Collected Earlier Poems (1990); The Venetian Vespers (1979); Millions of Strange Shadows (1977); The Hard Hours (1967), which won the Pulitzer Prize; and A Summoning of Stones (1954).

He is also author of On the Laws of Poetic Art: The Andrew Mellon Lectures, 1992 (1995) and Obbligati: Essays in Criticism (1986); co-translator of Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (with Helen Bacon, 1975); and editor of The Essential Herbert (1987) and Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls (with John Hollander, 1967).

Hecht has received the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Loines Award, the Librex-Guggenheim Eugenio Montale Award, and the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the American Academy in Rome, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and lived in Washington, D.C. He died on October 20, 2004.


Multimedia

  

 

Chorus from Oedipus at Colonos

Anthony Hecht
What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful;
And as for pleasures, once beyond our prime,
They all drift out of reach, they are washed away.
And the same gaunt bailiff calls upon us all.
Summoning into Darkness, to those wards
Where is no music, dance, or marriage hymn
That soothes or gladdens.  To the tenements of Death.

Not to be born is, past all yearning, best.
And second best is, having seen the light.
To return at once to deep oblivion.
When youth has gone, and the baseless dreams of youth,
What misery does not then jostle man's elbow,
Join him as a companion, share his bread?
Betrayal, envy, calumny and bloodshed
Move in on him, and finally Old Age--
Infirm, despised Old Age--joins in his ruin,
The crowning taunt of his indignities.

So is it with that man, not just with me.
He seems like a frail jetty facing North
Whose pilings the waves batter from all quarters;
From where the sun comes up, from where it sets,
From freezing boreal regions, from below,
A whole winter of miseries now assails him,
Thrashes his sides and breaks over his head.
Anthony Hecht

Anthony Hecht

Anthony Hecht was born in New York City in 1923. His books of poetry include The Darkness and the Light (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001); Flight Among the Tombs (1996); The Transparent Man (1990); Collected Earlier Poems (1990); The Venetian Vespers (1979); Millions of Strange Shadows (1977); The Hard Hours (1967), which won the Pulitzer Prize; and A Summoning of Stones (1954).

by this poet

poem

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It
poem
I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis,
And thank you very kindly for this visit--
Especially now when all the others here
Are having holiday visitors, and I feel
A little conspicuous and in the way.
It's mainly because of Thanksgiving.  All these mothers
And wives and husbands gaze at me soulfully
And feel