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The Darkness and the Light
The Darkness and the Light

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About the Author Poem Poets on Poetry
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Anthony Hecht's first book of poems, A Summoning of Stones, appeared in 1954. It was followed by The Hard Hours, which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1968. Millions of Strange Shadows was published in 1977, and The Venetian Vespers in 1979. The last three titles, together with the author's selection from the first book was published in 1990 as Collected Earlier Poems, together with a new book, The Transparent Man. He is the author also of a book of critical essays, Obbligati, 1986; The Hidden Law, 1993, his study of the poetry of W.H. Auden; and On the Laws of the Poetic Art, 1995, the Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, delivered at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1992. He has taught widely, most recently as University Professor in the Graduate School of Georgetown University, from which he has recently retired. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Dorothy Alexander

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.

"Some years–no, decades!–ago, Anthony Hecht was pleased to call the poems in The Hard Hours, his second book, "a few snapshots from along the Via Negativa." Loyal to that figuration the poet remains, though how much more intense the chiaroscuro here, how much deeper the imprint: these are the poems of Horatio after so much of Denmark’s personnel has been cleared away, meditating loss and survival, rich with a survivor’s torn wisdom. For all the glee of the poesis, Hecht’s lines are severe even in their civility, their music wild even in its mastery. Rendered in his eighth book is the judgment of an unrelenting and an unreconciled art."