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The Darkness and the Light: Poems

The Darkness and the Light: Poems

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by Anthony Hecht

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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 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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."
Hecht is the sort of brilliant man with whom one might enjoy lunch. Unfortunately, and here's the rub, you might end up reading his poetry. With entertaining narratives, dark monologues, fresh translations of ancient monologues and the occasional art-inspired poem, Hecht takes us through the vengeful and self-righteous world of comfortable, contemporary bourgeois academics. The poet appears always pressed deep into his overstuffed armchair by the weight of great learning and decadent leisure. Although he gets a few good digs in against academic excess with "Rara Avis in Terris," he falls among his victims in "Sacrifice." This three-part poem is built around a reductive, psychology-heavy association between the two Old Testament figures Abraham and Isaac, and an ordinary family who risk their son in a confrontation with a German soldier during World War II. "It wasn't charity. Perhaps mere prudence,/Saving a valuable round of ammunition/For some more urgent crisis. Whatever it was,/The soldier reslung his rifle on his shoulder." The sneering phrase "whatever it was" is annoyingly typical of these lines—whatever the mysteries of the ancient Hebrew tale of sacrifice, only a comfortable intellectual could toss off everything to chance. These poems seldom rise to the wry wit of W.H. Auden or produce the peculiar discomfort with beauty that one gets from reading Robert Frost, to name two poets he echoes. Nevertheless, if self-conscious literary intellectual hopelessness is your bag, Hecht may become one of your favorites.
—Stephen Whited

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
Hecht's (Flight Among the Tombs, The Hard Hours) refreshing and liberating verse possesses a quality that transcends both time and space. In his eighth book of poetry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet pulls the reader into an ocean that "rams itself in pitched assault/ And spastic rage to which there is no halt;/ Foam-white brigades collapse; but the huge host/ Has infinite reserves." It is his striking use of "r" and "o" sounds, creating a cadence of rising and falling within the meter of the line ("against the enormous rocks of a rough coast") that demonstrates Hecht's linguistic control. In the past, Hecht has revealed the scope of his craft in his quality translations of Horace, Baudelaire, and Goethe; here, he pays homage to his predecessors by bringing to light the strong connection between contemporary and biblical themes in such poems as "Sacrifice" and "The Road to Damascus." An exceptional book of poetry, Hecht's latest endeavor is highly recommended for all poetry collections. Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fiercely melancholic sequence of lyrics, odes, monologues, and translations, many of them written with the Biblical tales in mind. The severe rhythms and wild rhymes ("guano" is made to chime with "soprano") make wonderfully baroque patterns—Bach partitas set stylishly to words. But music is only part of the festivities offered in Hecht's work. His poems are also painterly, full of still lives, landscapes, and jewel-box miniatures. Lot's wife remembers the "exquisite satisfactions" of her childhood in this way: "The iridescent labyrinth of the spider, / Its tethered tensor nest of polygons / puffed by the breeze to a little bellying sail— / Merely observing this gave infinite pleasure." Hecht often figures the poet as a witness, and the infinite pleasures of observation are always mixed with more difficult moral concerns like passivity, historical atrocity, and individual despair. In "A Witness," a "briny, tough, and thorned sea holly" watches as "The ocean rams itself in pitched assault / And spastic rage to which there is no halt . . . / At scenes of sacrifice, unrelieved pain, / figured in froth, aquamarine and black." That pain should go unrelieved is Hecht's way of acknowledging poetry's limits and history's wounds; the tough holly is his protest against both. Another tactic for combating forgetfulness is to resurrect a voice. Hecht's most well known poem of this type is "The Maid of Dover" (after Arnold), and in the new collection he approaches those heights with the savage "Judith": "It was easy. Holofernes was pretty tight; / I had only to show some cleavage and he was done for." No contemporary poet is so lapidary as Hecht. That he can put such beauty at theservice of a stringent ethic is his continual gift.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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6.17(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.49(d)

Read an Excerpt

Lot's Wife

How simple the pleasures of those childhood days,
Simple but filled with exquisite satisfactions.
The iridescent labyrinth of the spider,
Its tethered tensor nest of polygons
Puffed by the breeze to a little bellying sail--
Merely observing this gave infinite pleasure.
The sound of rain. The gentle graphite veil
Of rain that makes of the world a steel engraving,
Full of soft fadings and faint distances.
The self-congratulations of a fly,
Rubbing its hands. The brown bicameral brain
Of a walnut. The smell of wax. The feel
Of sugar to the tongue: a delicious sand.
One understands immediately how Proust
Might cherish all such postage-stamp details.
Who can resist the charms of retrospection?

Copyright© 2001 by Anthony Hecht.

Copyright 2002 by Anthony Hecht

Meet the Author

Anthony Hecht is the author of seven books of poetry, among them The Hard Hours, which received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1968, and, more recently, Flight Among the Tombs. In 1984 he received the Eugenio Montale Award for lifetime achievement in poetry, and in 2000 the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. He has written a critical study of the poetry of W. H. Auden, and On the Laws of the Poetic Art (Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts). He taught for some years at Bard College, the University of Rochester and Georgetown University, and now lives in Washington, D.C.

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The Darkness and the Light 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hecht's verse is always a pleasure to read. You see his intelligence, formal skill, and love of language in his poems. 'Nocturne' is Hecht's succesful villanelle, which is one of my favorite formal types of poems, and when it is well done, and it is well done here, it can be one of the most successful forms of poetry. bravo mr. hecht. 'Sacrifice' also sticks out in the book. it is a poem in three parts, juxtaposing the story of abraham and isaac with an incident in 1945, which is just chilling. hecht has several successful translations. I was dissapointed in the lack of war poems, which few do better than hecht, and the overabundance of religous poems. the dual picture on the cover lead me to believe that the subject of this collection would be both wwii and religion. i would hope next time knopf would do better in designing the cover.