Anthony Hecht

The Vow
In the third month, a sudden flow of blood.
The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, and the joy
Also of the harp. The frail image of God
Lay spilled and formless. Neither girl nor boy,
But yet blood of my blood, nearly my child.
All that long day
Her pale face turned to the window’s mild
Featureless grey.
And for some nights she whimpered as she dreamed
The dead thing spoke, saying: “Do not recall
Pleasure at my conception. I am redeemed
From pain and sorrow. Mourn rather for all
Who breathlessly issue from the bone gates,
The gates of horn,
For truly it is best of all the fates
Not to be born.
“Mother, a child lay gasping for bare breath
On Christmas Eve when Santa Claus had set
Death in the stocking, and the lights of death
Flamed in the tree. O, if you can, forget
You were the child, turn to my father’s lips
Against the time
When his cold hand puts forth its fingertips
Of jointed lime.”
Doctors of Science, what is man that he
Should hope to come to a good end? The best
Is not to have been born.
And could it be
That Jewish diligence and Irish jest
The consent of flesh and a midwinter storm
Had reconciled,
Was yet too bold a mixture to inform
A simple child?
Even as gold is tried, Gentile and Jew.
If that ghost was a girl’s, I swear to it:
Your mother shall be far more blessed than you.
And if a boy’s, I swear: The flames are lit
That shall refine us; they shall not destroy
A living hair.
Your younger brothers shall confirm in joy
That this I swear.

Giant Tortoise
I am related to stones
The slow accretion of moss where dirt is wedged
Long waxy hair that can split boulders.
Events are not important.
I live in my bone
Recalling the hour of my death.
It takes more toughness than most have got.
Or a saintliness.
Strength of a certain kind, anyway.
Bald toothless clumsy perhaps
With all the indignity of old age
But age is not important.
There is nothing worth remembering
But the silver glint in the muck
The thickening of great trees
The hard crust getting harder.

“It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It.”
Tonight my children hunch
Toward their Western, and are glad
As, with a Sunday punch,
The Good casts out the Bad.
And in their fairy tales
The warty giant and witch
Get sealed in doorless jails
And the match-girl strikes it rich.
I’ve made myself a drink.
The giant and witch are set
To bust out of the clink
When my children have gone to bed.
All frequencies are loud
With signals of despair;
In flash and morse they crowd
The rondure of the air.
For the wicked have grown strong,
Their numbers mock at death,
Their cow brings forth its young,
Their bull engendereth.
Their very fund of strength,
Satan, bestrides the Globe;
He stalks its breadth and length
And finds out even Job.
Yet by quite other laws
My children make their case;
Half God, half Santa Claus,
But with my voice and face,
A hero comes to save
The poorman, beggarman, thief,
And make the world behave
And put an end to grief.
And that their sleep be sound
I say this childermas
Who could not, at one time,
Have saved them from the gas.

“More Light! More Light!”
for Heinrich Blücher and Hannah Arendt
Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
“I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime.”
Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.
And that was but one, and by no means one of the worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ
That shall judge all men, for his soul’s tranquility.
We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.
Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Lüger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.
Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted to the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and get back in.
No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Lüger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.
No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.