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This review is taken from PN Review 82, Volume 18 Number 2, November - December 1991.

DINOSAURS Anthony Hecht, The Transparent Man, (Oxford) £6.95

Anthony Hecht is a purveyor of brilliant description whose poems have a mysterious hollowness about them. The stunning purple passages in his new volume, The Transparent Man, read like compensation for a series of characteristically bleak home truths. Hecht's virtuosity is usually occasioned by art objects, themselves a favourite anodyne. In 'See Naples and Die', one of the two long poems in this collection, a fastidious account of Bellini's 'The Transfiguration' points not to God but to an externalized religion of art. Significantly, landscape is relegated to 'mere background', as elsewhere metaphor appoints the natural world as the handmaiden of art. By a stroke of what used to be known as masculine genius, Vermeer does not imitate the light, the light mimics Vermeer.

Although the book is full of admiring evocations of painters and their work, from Renoir to Kenneth Clark, Hecht's manner is that of connoisseur rather than fellow labourer. He gives the impression of being insulated from the world by a wall of canvas. Coming out of the Museo Nazionale, the protagonist of 'See Naples' and his wife Martha are confronted by a child's funeral procession. Indefatigably, he registers the details of the spectacle; 'jet-black harnessed chargers', 'black ostrich plumes', 'disorderly hothouse profusions'. Coming to himself again when the cortege has passed, our hero is astonished to discover that Martha is strangely upset, but exercises subtlety in 'thinking it best to leave the matter delicately untouched'. In the next section the luckless couple are treated ...


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