Anthony Hecht


Archduke of Darkness who supplies
The deadline governing joy and woe
Here I put off my flesh disguise
Et nunc pulvere dormio.

Anthony Evan Hecht is buried in the Bard College Cemetery, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA.

Anthony Hecht's Grave

Anthony Hecht

Hecht was born in New York - the son of a Jewish-German banker. He studied English at Bard College where he encoutered the work of Auden, Eliot, Wallace Stevens and Dylan Thomas. When he announced to his parents that he wanted to be a poet they were not impressed and invited to dinner Theodor Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) to try and put him off; fortunately their ploy didn't work.

Hecht saw action in Germany and Czechoslovakia during WW2 as an infantry soldier and he also helped to liberate the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp which was attached to Buchenwald - an experience which would stay with him for the rest of his life. In fact, it led to him suffering post-traumatic stress disorder later in life and caused a mental break down which saw him hospitalised for three months in 1959. Nazi atrocities were a common subject matter in Hecht's poetry as he tried to expunge his memories.

After the war he took advantage of the G.I. bill which enabled him to study under John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College. Here he encountered other important poets including: Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Tate.

His first collection appeared in 1954 and was entitled A Summoning of Stones. His other collections included The Hard Hours (1967), The Transparent Man (1990) and Flight  Among the Tombs (1998).

He also wrote a critical study of his mentor W.H. Auden entitled The Hidden Law (1993). (He actually met and became friends with Auden on the Italian island of Ischia in 1951.)

Hecht was a master of traditional forms - something he may have picked up from Auden.  He is also credited with inventing the double dactyl - a complicated light verse form consisting of two quatrains where the first three lines are two dactyls e.g. 'Higgledy-piggledy' and the fourth line is a dactyl and a macron. The last word of each quatrain must also rhyme. He also translated classical works such as Aeschylus and the odes of Horace

He won several prizes including: the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1968 for The Hard Hours, the 1988 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and the 1999/2000 Frost Medal.

He taught at a number of  prestigious insitituions incuding Smith, Bard, Harvard and Yale. At Smith college he encountered Sylvia Plath.

Today he is mainly remembered for transforming his wartime experience into decorus and formal poetry often with a disconcertingly calm tone. His viewpoint was also significantly European for an American poet.

He was married twice - the second time to cookery writer Helen D' Alessandro who is buried with him at Bard College.

There is not much else to tell.
One tries one's best to continue as before,
Doing some little good.
But I would have you know that all is not well
With a man dead set to ignore
The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

From A Letter





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