Anthony Hecht was one of the most accomplished American poets of his generation. Hecht's work combined a passionate interest in form with an unflinching determination to confront the horrors of 20th-century history, in particular the second world war, in which he fought, and the Holocaust.
Hecht was drafted into the 97th Infantry Division and dispatched to Europe. The horrific experiences of his war years permeate many of his most moving poems. His division helped liberate Flossenbürg, a concentration camp near Buchenwald. Hecht was instructed to interview French prisoners in the hope of assembling evidence with which to try the camp's commanders. He later commented: "The place, the suffering, the prisoners' accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking."
His first collection, A Summoning Of Stones (1954) revealed his mastery of a complex range of forms and an impassioned awareness of the forces of history. It was in 'The Hard Hours' that Hecht began to explore his memories of the war - memories so potent they had resulted in a nervous breakdown in 1959. The title poem of his 1979 volume, The Venetian Vespers, is a dramatic monologue spoken by a "mentally unsound" American who has settled in Venice in the hope of escaping his memories of the war. Hecht plays off his suffering and stoic resolve against the city's decay and dignity and beauty and history.
The long poem Rites and Ceremonies is Hecht's most disturbing response to the Holocaust: