Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967, Anthony Hecht's poetry deals often with dark subjects, such as the Holocaust and World War II, a war in which he served. Notably, his poems have been set as songs by Robert Beazer in his cycle The Seven Deadly Sins of 1979. Hecht's poetry is characterized by its formality, though is subject matter belongs distinctly to the 20th Century.
"Hecht is much like Wallace Stevens in his interest in music 'as a medium and transcendent force,' and he is especially influenced by 'the melodic intricacy of expression...'" (Poetry Foundation)
Photo: Anthony Hecht, 1947, public domain
Born in New York City to Jewish-German parents and a classmate of Jack Kerouac in high school, Hecht decided that he wanted to become a poet when he began his undergraduate study at Bard College.
Hecht's poetry uses exquisitely beautiful and lyrical verse to address horrific issues of war and destruction. His poetry is especially concerned with the Holocaust, which he witnessed firsthand for himself when he served in World War II. In 1944, upon finishing his degree at Bard, Hecht was drafted and fought on several fronts until the war ended. He was intensely influenced by his experience in helping liberate the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 23, 1945.
After the war, Hecht studied in Ohio as well as in the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he met many established poets. A Summoning of Stones, his first volume, was published in 1954. Hecht's memories of World War II plagued him throughout his life, causing him to have a nervous breakdown in 1959. He published throughout his life and taught at the University of Rochester. He was Poet Laureate from 1982 to 1984.
Hecht is known for his use of the double dactyl in his poetry, which is usually employed in children's nursery rhymes and light verse. Combining this playfulness with the heavy subject matter of his poetry was his trademark. Therefore, his poems have a singsong-like quality when read aloud.