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This article is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

Anthony Hecht in Kindless Dark Tony Roberts
Anthony Hecht (1923–2004) was the Prospero of his generation of American poets: magical, manipulative and melancholic. His poems could be extravagantly ornate or plain-speaking, impersonal and personal by turns, with perspectives changing even within poems in order to create unconventional discontinuities. The poet’s self is fragmented into countless, generally suffering, personae.

In the past twenty-five years, interest in Hecht’s work has hardly flagged. He is in fine form in a 1999 book-length interview, Anthony Hecht in conversation with Philip Hoy (one of those excellent ‘Between the Lines’ publications) and in the Selected Letters, edited by Jonathan F.S. Post in 2013. Last year saw the publication of both Late Romance: Anthony Hecht – A Poet’s Life by David Yezzi and the Collected Poems of Anthony Hecht: including late and uncollected work, again edited by Hoy.

While anchored to a modern sensibility, Hecht’s poetry ranges through the centuries to explore instances of cruelty and suffering which illustrate the human condition. He is most memorable on the dark side of experience. He takes his text from Job 5:7:
The river worms through the snow plain
In kindless darks.
And man is born to sorrow and to pain
As surely as the sparks
Fly upward.
In ‘The Venetian Vespers’ a troubled American in a decaying Venice acknowledges ‘those first precocious hints of hell, / Those intuitions of living desolation / That last a lifetime’. Scenes of horror abound in the poems. Yet Hecht also has other moods and preoccupations. He can render in an exact way how ...

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