Anthony Hecht, 1923-2004

The American poet Anthony Hecht died on Wednesday, October 20th.

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“Mr. Hecht, who was 81, had won the Pulitzer Prize and many other awards when he moved to Washington in 1982 as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress — one of the nation’s highest honors for a poet. In 1985, after his two-year term expired, he became a professor at Georgetown University, from which he retired in 1993. He continued to write poems until near the time of his death.

‘Anthony Hecht is indisputably one of the greatest poets of his age,’ said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and a respected poet. ‘He wrote unabashedly in the high style, but he did so with such emotional force and exquisite musicality that his poems went directly to your heart.'”

A poem, in memorium:

Chorus From Oedipus At Colonos

What is unwisdom but the lusting after
Longevity: to be old and full of days!
For the vast and unremitting tide of years
Casts up to view more sorrowful things than joyful;
And as for pleasures, once beyond our prime,
They all drift out of reach, they are washed away.
And the same gaunt bailiff calls upon us all.
Summoning into Darkness, to those wards
Where is no music, dance, or marriage hymn
That soothes or gladdens. To the tenements of Death.

Not to be born is, past all yearning, best.
And second best is, having seen the light.
To return at once to deep oblivion.
When youth has gone, and the baseless dreams of youth,
What misery does not then jostle man’s elbow,
Join him as a companion, share his bread?
Betrayal, envy, calumny and bloodshed
Move in on him, and finally Old Age–
Infirm, despised Old Age–joins in his ruin,
The crowning taunt of his indignities.

So is it with that man, not just with me.
He seems like a frail jetty facing North
Whose pilings the waves batter from all quarters;
From where the sun comes up, from where it sets,
From freezing boreal regions, from below,
A whole winter of miseries now assails him,
Thrashes his sides and breaks over his head.

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