14 April 2009

The Dover Bitch by Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl.  It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck.  She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry.  To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that.  What I mean to say is,
She's really all right.  I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right.  We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.


Anthony Hecht was born in New York City in 1923.  His books of poetry include The Darkness and the Light (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001); Flight Among the Tombs (1996); The Transparent Man (1990); Collected Earlier Poems (1990); The Venetian Vespers (1979); Millions of Strange Shadows (1977); The Hard Hours (1967), which won the Pulitzer Prize; and A Summoning of Stones (1954).  He is also the author of On the Laws of Poetic Art: the Andrew Mellon Lectures, 1992 (1995) and Obbligati: Essays in Criticism (1986); co-translator of Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (with Helen Bacon, 1975); and editor of The Essential Herbert (1987) and Jiggery-Pokery: A Compendium of Double Dactyls (with John Hollander, 1967).  He has received the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Loines Award, the Librex-Guggenheim Eugenio Montale Award, and the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the American Academy in Rome, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.  He was a Chancellor Emeritus of The Academy of American Poets and lived in Washington, D.C.  He died on October 20, 2004.

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