Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Hecht & the Holocaust.

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 Flossenb├╝rg, 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:

But in the camps, one can look through a huge square 
Window, like an aquarium, upon a room 
The size of my livingroom filled with human hair ... 
Out of one trainload, about five hundred in all, 
Twenty the next morning were hopelessly insane. 
And some there be that have no memorial, 
That are perished as though they had never been. 
Made into soap.
In comparison with his hero, Auden, Hecht wrote slowly and relatively little: in the course of a 60-year career, he published only seven collections of poetry, and his complete works would fill only 500 pages. However, nearly all of Hecht's poems, even his lighter verses, strike one as so carefully worked as to be unimprovable.
Hecht's poetry will stand, along with that of James Merrill, Richard Wilbur, John Hollander and Richard Howard, as exemplifying the virtues of a commitment to the formal that produced some of the finest American poetry of the 20th century. His work has also been influential on the younger generation of formalists, poets such as Brad Leithauser, Mary Jo Salter and JD McClatchy. Over the last two decades he was the recipient of almost every honour in American poetry including the Bollingen Prize (1983), the Tanning Prize (1997), and the Poetry Society of America's Frost Medal (2000).

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Transparent Man (Poem)

The Transparent Man

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 they should break up their box of chocolates
For a donation, or hand me a chunk of fruitcake.
What they don't understand and never guess
Is that it's better for me without a family;
It's a great blessing. Though I mean no harm.
And as for visitors, why, I have you,
All cheerful, brisk and punctual every Sunday,
Like church, even if the aisles smell of phenol.
And you always bring even better gifts than any
On your book-trolley. Though they mean only good,
Families can become a sort of burden.
I've only got my father, and he won't come,
Poor man, because it would be too much for him.
And for me, too, so it's best the way it is.
He knows, you see, that I will predecease him,
Which is hard enough. It would take a callous man
To come and stand around and watch me failing.
(Now don't you fuss; we both know the plain facts.)
But for him it's even harder. He loved my mother.
They say she looked like me; I suppose she may have.
Or rather, as I grew older I came to look
More and more like she must one time have looked,
And so the prospect for my father now
Of losing me is like having to lose her twice.
I know he frets about me. Dr. Frazer
Tells me he phones in every single day,
Hoping that things will take a turn for the better.
But with leukemia things don't improve.
It's like a sort of blizzard in the bloodstream,
A deep, severe, unseasonable winter,
Burying everything. The white blood cells
Multiply crazily and storm around,
Out of control. The chemotherapy
Hasn't helped much, and it makes my hair fall out.
I know I look a sight, but I don't care.
I care about fewer things; I'm more selective.
It's got so I can't even bring myself
To read through any of your books these days.
It's partly weariness, and partly the fact
That I seem not to care much about the endings,
How things work out, or whether they even do.
What I do instead is sit here by this window
And look out at the trees across the way.
You wouldn't think that was much, but let me tell you,
It keeps me quite intent and occupied.
Now all the leaves are down, you can see the spare,
Delicate structures of the sycamores,
The fine articulation of the beeches.
I have sat here for days studying them,
And I have only just begun to see
What it is that they resemble. One by one,
They stand there like magnificent enlargements
Of the vascular system of the human brain.
I see them there like huge discarnate minds,
Lost in their meditative silences.
The trunks, branches and twigs compose the vessels
That feed and nourish vast immortal thoughts.
So I've assigned them names. There, near the path,
Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler
Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash.
This view, you see, has become my Hall of Fame,
It came to me one day when I remembered
Mary Beth Finley who used to play with me
When we were girls. One year her parents gave her
A birthday toy called "The Transparent Man."
It was made of plastic, with different colored organs,
And the circulatory system all mapped out
In rivers of red and blue. She'd ask me over
And the two of us would sit and study him
Together, and do a powerful lot of giggling.
I figure he's most likely the only man
Either of us would ever get to know
Intimately, because Mary Beth became
A Sister of Mercy when she was old enough.
She must be thirty-one; she was a year
Older than I, and about four inches taller.
I used to envy both those advantages
Back in those days. Anyway, I was struck
Right from the start by the sea-weed intricacy,
The fine-haired, silken-threaded filiations
That wove, like Belgian lace, throughout the head.
But this last week it seems I have found myself
Looking beyond, or through, individual trees
At the dense, clustered woodland just behind them,
Where those great, nameless crowds patiently stand.
It's become a sort of complex, ultimate puzzle
And keeps me fascinated. My eyes are twenty-twenty,
Or used to be, but of course I can't unravel
The tousled snarl of intersecting limbs,
That mackled, cinder grayness. It's a riddle
Beyond the eye's solution. Impenetrable.
If there is order in all that anarchy
Of granite mezzotint, that wilderness,
It takes a better eye than mine to see it.
It set me on to wondering how to deal
With such a thickness of particulars,
Deal with it faithfully, you understand,
Without blurring the issue. Of course I know
That within a month the sleeving snows will come
With cold, selective emphases, with massings
And arbitrary contrasts, rendering things
Deceptively simple, thickening the twigs
To frosty veins, bestowing epaulets
And decorations on every birch and aspen.
And the eye, self-satisfied, will be misled,
Thinking the puzzle solved, supposing at last
It can look forth and comprehend the world.
That's when you have to really watch yourself.
So I hope that you won't think me plain ungrateful
For not selecting one of your fine books,
And I take it very kindly that you came
And sat here and let me rattle on this way. 

The poem begins, "I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis." The speaker is a woman who is dying of leukemia and Mrs. Curtis is the lady who comes around periodically with the book-cart, offering patients something to read. While the other patients are celebrating the holiday with family or friends, the speaker, who has no visitors, feels conspicuous and lonely. Thus, she is grateful for Mrs. Curtis' regular visit, especially since the book-cart lady appears willing to sit down and listen. The leukemia makes her so fatigued that she doesn't even feel like reading. So instead, she sits by the window and looks at the trees. Since the leaves have fallen, the trees look like "magnificent enlargements / Of the vascular system of the human brain." These trees remind her of "The Transparent Man," a toy one of her friends had when they were girls.

This dying patient yearns for companionship. Yet no one visits her, except the book-cart lady, whose books are no longer of any value. What is of value, though, is Mrs. Curtis's willingness to listen. Notice she says nothing; she simply witnesses. Somehow she establishes an emphatic connection with the patient, who otherwise sits for hours and looks out at the bare trees.
But the patient also has a relationship with the trees. She transforms them. They become the part of enormous brains, all of which in some deep sense are connected, both spatially and temporally (as they recall "The Transparent Man" of her childhood). Her own brain, the brain that allows her to imagine and be grateful and remember, is part of that same great reality.

The Dover Bitch (Poem)

The Dover Bitch: A Criticism Of Life

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's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
the notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As sort of a mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
and finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come,
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour. 

The Dover Bitch is a taunt at the romanticism of Matthew Arnold's poem ' Dover Beach'. He seems to be mocking Arnold's ideas of a last resort love to the woman in the poem. It's a mockery of the Victorian values in 'Dover Beach.'
With the lines 'And then she said one or two unprintable things.' he shows that unlike the women of the 
Victorian age, she was not one to sit quietly and do what is told by her husband. She is portrayed equal to men and her unfaithfulness shows that she is not to just stand by his side for his every beck and call. 

Hecht reinforces his Ideas of change by taking Arnold's "...the cliffs of England stand, glimmering and vast" and transforms the Victorian idea of women into "...cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,". This supports the idea that Hecht is aware of the changes that are happening and he is envious of the way things used to be. In short, Hecht uses the Victorian values shown in Arnold's "Dover Beach" as a comparison to the changes of values of his time. Hecht brings reality to Arnold's romantic poem.
But in reality, Hecht is displaying his views and concerns about changes that have occurred in the value system of his time. Hecht shows an envy of he romantic time potrayed in 'Dover Beach'.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

About the Poet

 About the poet...

Anthony Evan Hecht was an American poet

His work combined a deep interest in form with a passionate desire to confront the horrors of 20th century history, with the Second World War, in which he fought, and the Holocaust being recurrent themes in his work.

He was born on January 13,1923 in New York City to German-Jewish parents.  He was educated at various schools in the city but showed no great academic ability. However, as a freshman English student at Bard College in New York he discovered the works of Wallace Stevens, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas. It was at this point that he decided he would become a poet. Hecht's parents were not happy at his plans and tried to discourage them.

In 1944, upon completing his final year at Bard, Hecht was drafted into the 97th Infantry Division and was sent to the battlefields in Europe. He saw a great deal of combat in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia. However, his most significant experience occurred on April 23, 1945. On this day Hecht's division helped liberate Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp. Hecht was ordered to interview French prisoners in the hope of gathering evidence on the camp's commanders. Years later, Hecht said of this experience, "The place, the suffering, the prisoners' accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking."

After the war ended, Hecht took advantage of the G.I. bill to study under the poet-critic John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College, Ohio. Here he came into contact with fellow poets such as Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Allen Tate. He later received his master's degree from Columbia University. Hecht also attended the University of Iowa. Hecht released his first collection,' A Summoning of Stones', in 1954. In this work his mastery of a wide range of poetic forms were clear as was his awareness of the forces of history, which he had seen first hand. 
Even at this stage Hecht's poetry was often compared with that of Auden, with whom Hecht had become friends in 1951 during a holiday on the Italian island of Ischia, where Auden spent each summer. In 1993 Hecht published, The Hidden Law, a critical reading of Auden's body of work. During his career Hecht won many fans, and prizes, including the Prix de Rome in 1951 and the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his second work 'The Hard Hours'. It was within this volume that Hecht first addressed his own experiences of World War II - memories that had caused him to have a nervous breakdown in 1959. 
Hecht spent three months in hospital following his breakdown, although he was spared electric shock therapy, unlike Sylvia Plath, whom he had encountered while teaching at Smith College. 

Hecht's main source of income was as a teacher of poetry, most notably at the University of Rochester where he taught from 1967 to 1985. He also spent varying lengths of time teaching at other notable institutions such as Smith, Bard, Harvard, Georgetown, and Yale. Between 1982 and 1984, he held the esteemed position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He passed away on 20th October, 2004 in Washington D.C. He is buried at the cemetery at Bard College.

Anthony Evan Hecht's Works:


A Summoning of Stones (1954) 

The Hard Hours (1967) 
Millions of Strange Shadows (1977) 
The Venetian Vespers (1979) 
The Transparent Man (1990) 
Flight Among the Tombs (1998) 
The Darkness and the Light (2001) 
More Light! More Light! (Poem) 


Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (1973) (with Helen Bacon) 

Other Works
Obbligati: Essays in Criticism (1986) 
The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden (1993) 
On the Laws of the Poetic Art (1995) 
Melodies Unheard: Essays on the Mysteries of Poetry (2003)

Bollingen Prize (1983)
 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1988)
Frost Medal (1999/2000)

Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1982 -1984)

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1968) (The Hard Hours)

Wallace Stevens Award (1997)

Ambassador Book Award for Poetry
The Tanning Prize
National Medal of Arts (2004)