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20 anni di Semicerchio. Indice 1-34
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« indietro

ANTHONY HECHT, The Darkness and the Light, New York, Alfred A. Knopf 2001, pp. 67, $ 10,50; Melodies Unheard: Essays on the Mysteries of Poetry, Baltimora, Johns Hopkins University Press 2003, pp. 304, $ 24,95.

The title of Anthony Hecht’s latest volume, The Darkness and the Light, suggests a fine balance between positive and negative values, between good and evil. The cover itself is neatly divided between light and dark: the upper portion shows a detail from a luminous fresco by Tiepolo, Angel Preventing the Sacrifice of Isaac, while beneath it a dark photograph, in murky greys and blacks, shows silhouetted soldiers engaged in battle. However, once one enters the world of the poems contained in the volume, the sensation is inescapable that it is the forces of darkness that prevail. Indeed, even the Bible scene from the cover-painting, we soon find out, is far from being as radiantly joyful as the painter’s style may suggest. In Venetian Vespers, Hecht had paid homage to Tiepolo’s skill in rendering the «splendor of the insubstantial»; however, the episode that the artist depicts here, for all the frothy brilliance of his style, is full of grim substance, the full weight of which is explored in a sequence of three poems in the volume, under the general title Sacrifice. These poems are just three among many in the volume which present Biblical stories, treated in a variety of manners, ranging from a philologically faithful reproduction of the vocabulary and manner of the original text, to ironic updating. In the case of Sacrifice Hecht combines the two modes; the first two poems in the sequence present the episode from the points of view of Abraham and Isaac, with unembarrassed recourse to Biblical vocabulary and, in the case of Abraham, an unsettling adoption of the structure of a psalm of praise. The third poem, entitled simply 1945, presents a brief but powerful narrative that echoes the Bible story resonantly and disturbingly. It recounts an apparently minor episode during the German retreat from France in which a farming family hid their precious bicycle from the risk of German depredation in the orchard; the climax of the story comes when a German soldier, knowing the family must possess such a vehicle, points his rifle at the eldest son and shouts aloud «what was certainly meant / To be his terminal order: BICYCLETTE!»
It was still early on a chilly morning.
The water in the tire-treads of the road
Lay clouded, polished pale and chalked with frost,
Like the paraffin-sealed coverings of preserves
The very grass was a stiff lead-crystal gray, Though splendidly prismatic where the sun
Made its slow way between the lingering shadows
Of nearby fence posts and more distant trees.

This recalls other moments in Hecht’s poetry, where the sensitivity to the visual splendours of the world seems to offer momentary but significant relief, if not redemption, from its horrors – perhaps never more significantly than in the final section of his Holocaust poem, Rites and Ceremonies. However, in this case, this moment of suspension has grim narrative significance; the poem proceeds: «There was leisure enough to take full note of this / In the most minute detail as the soldier held / Steady his index finger on the trigger ». The gun is never fired. The boy, like Isaac, is spared. However, the poet tells us that the family’s «long silence» was to continue «agonized, unviolated» for years to come. No accusing finger is pointed by the poet; the searing trauma is left to speak for itself.
As the Tiepolo fresco seems to suggest, and as the excruciating clarity of the descriptive passage above confirms, light itself is by no means invariably positive in its associations. One especially powerful poem, a kind of summation of Hecht’s skill in creating evocative landscapes, is entitled Despair. It consists of three stanzas, each depicting a landscape suggestive of a particular emotion; the first two depict «Sadness» and «Gloom», with, respectively, a dim, fog-swathed scene and a subway of «tiled and aging light».
However, the landscape of «Despair» is mid-afternoon in «the worn bank of a dry arroyo», with a «startled lizard ... exposed / To the full glare of relentless marigold sunshine».
However, it would be unfair to suggest that the volume is as unremittingly bleak as these quotations might suggest. Elsewhere, effects – or tricks - of the light do offer moments of genuine consolation or even glimpses of transcendental possibilities. These can occur in the most unlikely settings, as in the opening poem, where «oily patches» on the water of an industrial port suggest the «surfaces of Florentine bronze», and offer a «miracle of colors» to the viewer. In the poem Memory, a claustrophobic Victorian-style interior is given the blessing of a «dusty gleam of temporary wealth» when, «on sunny days toward midsummer / The brass andirons caught a shaft of light / For twenty minutes in late afternoon...» It is true that these transformative moments seem to occur most often in memory, but they are no less precious for that. Indeed, as a poem sardonically entitled Lot’s Wife puts it, «Who can resist the charms of retrospection?»
Who, indeed, when retrospection offers such marvellous visions as «The iridescent labyrinth of the spider, / Its tethered tensor nest of polygons / Puffed by the breeze to a little bellying sail»? As these lines suggest, Hecht has lost none of his love for the elaborate pleasures of the ‘high style’. Indeed, the fastidious might even feel there are moments when his love of elaboration takes him too far, with such playfully punning phrases as «a weakened, weekend father», «The ring-a-ding Ding-an-Sich», «The annual rings and wrongs that wring my withers...» However, Hecht, like his early master, Auden, has never denied the essential ludic component in poetry, which also implies a readiness to abide by the formal rules (Frost’s tennis-net), however arbitrary they may occasionally seem. As the British poet Glyn Maxwell has put it: «The work of Anthony Hecht shatters the cosy notion that a fragmented, fractured age should be reflected in the forms of its art, that ugliness and shapelessness demand payment in kind». Although not untroubled by post-Adorno moments of guilt at engaging in poetry after Auschwitz, Hecht has always finally come down in favour of the healing qualities of great art; the high style may have its faults of overindulgence but it is also a product of civilisation and, at its best, of genuine thought and feeling. Richard Wilbur, in a fine Ballade for Hecht’s eightieth birthday, described him as a poet «in whose darkest verse one sees / How style and agile intellect / Can both instruct and greatly please».
These qualities are fully in evidence also in his recent book of essays, Melodies Unheard. In addition to offering some superb close readings of poems by Hopkins, Frost and Bishop, he devotes several essays to the possibilities offered by particular forms, such as the sonnet and the sestina, and concludes the book with two wide-ranging essays, On Rhyme and The Music of Forms. In these essays we can see the supreme craftsman pondering on the tools of his trade; Hecht’s technical mastery – since the death of James Merrill – is rivalled only by that of his contemporary, Richard Wilbur. The book ends with a tribute to the art of criticism itself, which, if exercised with «care, tact, and delicacy», can help us to understand the ways that the music of forms works upon us. Dismissing a claim by William Stafford that analysing poetry is «like boiling a watch to see what makes it tick», Hecht states with confidence that the better poetry is, «the sturdier it becomes under inspection». There is no doubt that Hecht’s own poetry, so solidly founded in experience and thought and so caringly embellished with all the grace and splendour that the forms of poetic tradition offer, proves his point perfectly.
Gregory Dowling

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Iniziative
26 maggio 2018
Slam-Poetry al PIM-FEST, Rignano

19 maggio 2018
Lingue e dialetti: PIM-FEST a Rosano

17 maggio 2018
PIM-FEST: il programma

8 maggio 2018
Mia Lecomte a Pistoia

4 maggio 2018
Incontro con Stefano Carrai

2 maggio 2018
Lezioni sulla canzone

9 aprile 2018
Scaffai: "Letteratura e Ecologia" al Vieusseux

7 aprile 2018
Reading di poesia guidato da Caterina Bigazzi

5 aprile 2018
Incontro con Eraldo Affinati

23 marzo 2018
Libri recensibili per maggio 2018

3 marzo 2018
La poesia dei nuovi italiani. Con Barbara Serdakowski, in ricordo di Hasan

2 marzo 2018
Incontro con Grazia Verasani - annullato

27 febbraio 2018
Ceppo Internazionale ad André Ughetto - Firenze 27/2 ore 16

2 febbraio 2018
Ricordo di Hasan Atiya al-Nassar-Firenze

23 gennaio 2018
Mostra riviste poesia - Firenze Marucelliana

25 dicembre 2017
Addio ad Hasan Atiya al-Nassar

15 dicembre 2017
Antonella Anedda alla scuola di "Semicerchio"

8 dicembre 2017
Semicerchio a Più Libri più Liberi

30 settembre 2017
Lettura per i 30 anni di Semicerchio

1 settembre 2017
Iscrizioni Scuola di scrittura creativa

30 agosto 2017
Festival di Poesia "Voci lontane voci sorelle" - Firenze, 30/8-6/10

25 maggio 2017
In memoria di Max Chiamenti

10 marzo 2017
La Compagnia delle poete alla scuola di Semicerchio

1 marzo 2017
30 anni di SC: lectio di Jesper Svenbro a Siena

28 febbraio 2017
30 anni di SC: dibattito sulla post-poesia a Siena

11 febbraio 2017
Ricordo di Gabriella Maleti

10 febbraio 2017
Maurizio Cucchi alla Scuola di Semicerchio

31 gennaio 2017
Volumi in recensione 2017: call for reviews

27 gennaio 2017
Antonio Moresco alla Scuola di Semicerchio

24 dicembre 2016
Bando del Premio di poesia Achmadoulina

10 dicembre 2016
Semicerchio su Bob Dylan alla Fiera di Roma

9 dicembre 2016
Incontro con Stefano Dal Bianco

25 novembre 2016
Letteratura e cinema: incontro con Massimo Gaudioso

18 novembre 2016
Incontro con Wu Ming 2 alla Scuola di Scrittura Creativa

1 novembre 2016
Addio a Remo Ceserani

13 ottobre 2016
Il Nobel per la letteratura a Bob Dylan

9 settembre 2016
Presentazione di "The Mechanic Reader" a Venezia

1 luglio 2016
La poesia italiana in prospettiva plurilingue - Paris 1 luglio 2016

10 giugno 2016
Lettura della Scuola Semicerchio alle Oblate

22 aprile 2016
Corso di sceneggiatura di film letterari

18 aprile 2016
Incontri e Agguati. Per Milo De Angelis

25 febbraio 2016
Incontro con SERGEJ ZAV’JALOV - Premio Bigongiari

11 dicembre 2015
Incontro con Nicola Lagioia

4 dicembre 2015
Incontro col narratore Giorgio Vasta

27 novembre 2015
Incontro con Alessandro Fo

13 novembre 2015
Incontro con Sauro Albisani

24 settembre 2015
La Cucina Poetica di Semicerchio a Siena

22 maggio 2014
25 anni di Scuola di Scrittura Creativa - i video

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