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On Translation

Thursday, 20 October, 2016

The poet Anthony Hecht died on this day in 2004. His work was filled with a passionate desire to confront the horrors of 20th century history, especially the Second World War, in which he fought. On 23 April 1945, Hecht’s division helped liberate the Bavarian concentration camp at Flossenbürg. Years later, he said of this experience, “The place, the suffering, the prisoners’ accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking.”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Hecht was asked what he did after his discharge from the US Army. His answer:

“I was consistently drunk for well over two weeks. My parents were particularly forbearing and indulgent about this. They kept me in full supply of booze. I think I drank day and night, and I fell asleep most nights on the floor of their New York apartment. The drink must have served as a sort of narcotic for everything unmentionable that had happened or that I saw during those years.”

Hecht was a great admirer of Robert Fitzgerald, the American translator whose renderings of the Greek classics became standard works for a generation of scholars and students. On Translation was dedicated to Fitzgerald.

On Translation

Robert, how pleasantly tempting to surmise,
As Auden half suspected,
That heaven and the benign Italian skies
Are intimately connected;

And once there we shall truly be translated
In grand operatic style
And bella figura flourish, who are fated
To tarry here the while.

Amid hill towns and places where dwell
The blessed of heaven’s see,
They shall address you as Signor Freeztjell
Me, Signor Hecate.

Anthony Hecht (1923 – 2004)


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