“The Cost” by Anthony Hecht

by on 07/07/12 at 11:05 am

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Think how some excellent, lean torso hugs
+++++++The brink of weight and speed,
Coasting the margin of those rival tugs
+++++++Down the thin path of friction,
The athlete’s dancing vectors, the spirit’s need,
+++++++And muscle’s cleanly diction.

Clean as a Calder, whose interlacing ribs
+++++++Depend on one another,
Or a keen heeling of tackle, fluttering jibs
+++++++And slotted centreboards,
A fleet of breasting gulls riding the smother
+++++++And puzzle of heaven’s wards.

Instinct with joy, a young Italian banks
+++++++Smoothly around the base
Of Trajan’s column, feeling between his flanks
+++++++That cool, efficient beast,
His Vespa at one with him in a centaur’s race,
+++++++Fresh from a Lapith feast,

And his Lapith girl behind him. Both of them lean
+++++++With easy nonchalance
Over samphire-tufted cliffs, which, though unseen,
+++++++Are known, as the body knows
New risks and tilts, terrors and loves and wants,
+++++++Deeply inside its clothes.

She grips the animal-shoulder naked skin
+++++++Of his fitted leather jacket,
Letting a wake of hair float out the spin
+++++++And dazzled rinse of air,
Yet for all their headlong lurch and flatulent racket
+++++++They seem to loiter there,

Forever aslant in their moment and the mind’s eye.
+++++++Meanwhile, around the column
There also turn, and turn eternally,
+++++++Two thousand raw recruits
And scarred veterans coiling the stone in solemn
+++++++Military pursuits,

The heft and grit of the emperor’s Dacian Wars
+++++++That lasted fifteen years.
All of that youth and purpose is, of course,
+++++++No more than so much dust.
And even Trajan, of his imperial peers
+++++++Accounted “the most just,”

Honoured by Dante, by Gregory the Great
+++++++Saved from eternal Hell,
Swirls in the motes kicked up by the cough and spate
+++++++Of the Vespa’s blue exhaust,
And a voice whispers inwardly, “My soul,
+++++++It is the cost, the cost,”

Like some unhinged Othello, who’s just found out
+++++++That justice is no more,
While Cassio, Desdemona, Iago shout
+++++++Like true Venetians all,
“Go screw yourself; all’s fair in love and war!”
+++++++And the bright standards fall.

Better they should not hear that whispered phrase,
+++++++The young Italian couple;
Surely the mind in all its brave assays
+++++++Must put much thinking by,
To be, as Yeats would have it, free and supple
+++++++As a long-legged fly,

Look at their slender purchase, how they list,
+++++++Like a blown clipper brought
To the lively edge of peril, to the kissed
+++++++Lip, the victor’s crown,
The prize of life. Yet one unbodied thought
+++++++Could topple them, bring down

The whole shebang. And why should they take thought
+++++++Of all that ancient pain,
The Danube winters, the nameless young who fought,
+++++++The blood’s uncertain lease?
Or remember that that fifteen-year campaign
+++++++Won seven years of peace?


Ernest Hilbert

Ernest Hilbert is founder of E-Verse Radio.

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One Response to ““The Cost” by Anthony Hecht”

  1. hdblakely@bellsouth.net'

    Diann Blakely

    Jul 8th, 2012

    From POETRY NEWS IN REVIEW, and PLEIADES, I’m proud to say:

    Recent Reviews

    Selected Poems by Anthony Hecht
    by Diann Blakely
    The most Shakespearean poet of America’s twentieth century, Anthony Hecht wrote his best work while raging on history’s wind-scarred heath. More personally, he saw first-hand the world’s “brute, inexplicable inequities” as a soldier present at an Auschwitz annex’s liberation, then as a helplessly caring and overburdened husband trapped in domestic wars. (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/348618064)


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