THE DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT
"Look deep into my eyes. Think to yourself,/ 'There is "the fringèd curtain" where a play/ will shortly be enacted.' Look deep down/ into the pupil. Think, 'I am going to sleep.'" While a certain kind of play is certainly being enacted in this eighth collection (since Hecht's 1954's debut A Summoning of Stones, few readers will have the latter reaction. Hecht's has always tempered his fussy, Edward Gorey–like diction with camp-destroying earnest allusion, wry humor ("the ring-a-ding Ding-an-Sich") and a palpable sense of entitlement. These 44 short lyrics are quintessential late work—alternatingly fiery and melancholy, looking back over past darkness and strife to a promise of light and rest, and to a personal pantheon (Baudelaire, Horace, Goethe) represented here in nine translations. Yet the book is cohesive in theme, keeping to the shadowlands throughout poems like the Dickinson nod "A Certain Slant" ("the smooth cool plunder of celestial fire") and the crashing "Witness": "The ocean 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." Such reserves are not quite accessible to the poet here, but Hecht, with his baroque rhyme and forceful diction, operates as if they were. (June 28)
Forecast:Former Academy of American Poets chancellor Hecht won the Poetry Society of America's prestigious Frost Medal last year and the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for The Hard Hours. In the last decade he delivered the prestigious Mellon lectures in poetry, which became 1995's On the Laws of Poetic Art. Longtime fans will seek out any book by this never-overpublishing poet; a revision of 1990's Collected Earlier Poems seems imminent.