'The Transparent Man' by Anthony Hecht

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I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis,
And thank you very kindly for this visit--
Especially now when all the others here
Are having holiday visitors, and I feel
A little conspicuous and in the way.
It's mainly because of Thanksgiving.All these mothers
And wives and husbands gaze at me soulfully
And feel they should break up their box of chocolates
For a donation, or hand me a chunk of fruitcake.What they don't understand and never guess
Is that it's better for me without a family;
It's a great blessing.Though I mean no harm.
And as for visitors, why, I have you,
All cheerful, brisk and punctual every Sunday,
Like church, even if the aisles smell of phenol.
And you always bring even better gifts than anyOn your book-trolley. Though they mean only good,
Families can become a sort of burden.
I've only got my father, and he won't come,
Poor man, because it would be too much for him.
And for me, too, so it's best the way it is.He knows, you see, that I will predecease him,
Which is hard enough.It would take a callous man
To come and stand around and watch me failing.
(Now don't you fuss; we both know the plain facts.)
But for him it's even harder.He loved my mother.
They say she looked like me; I suppose she may have.
Or rather, as I grew older I came to look
More and more like she must one time have looked,
And so the prospect for my father now
Of losing me is like having to lose her twice.
I know he frets about me.Dr. Frazer
Tells me he phones in every single day,
Hoping that things will take a turn for the better.
But with leukemia things don't improve.
It's like a sort of blizzard in the bloodstream,
A deep, severe, unseasonable winter,
Burying everything.The white blood cells
Multiply crazily and storm around,
Out of control.The chemotherapy
Hasn't helped much, and it makes my hair fall out.
I know I look a sight, but I don't care.
I care about fewer things; I'm more selective.
It's got so I can't even bring myself
To read through any of your books these days.
It's partly weariness, and partly the fact
That I seem not to care much about the endings,
How things work out, or whether they even do.
What I do instead is sit here by this window
And look out at the trees across the way.
You wouldn't think that was much, but let me tell you,
It keeps me quite intent and occupied.
Now all the leaves are down, you can see the spare,
Delicate structures of the sycamores,
The fine articulation of the beeches.
I have sat here for days studying them,
And I have only just begun to see
What it is that they resemble.One by one,
They stand there like magnificent enlargements
Of the vascular system of the human brain.
I see them there like huge discarnate minds,
Lost in their meditative silences.
The trunks, branches and twigs compose the vessels
That feed and nourish vast immortal thoughts.
So I've assigned them names.There, near the path,
Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler
Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash.
This view, you see, has become my Hall of Fame,
It came to me one day when I rememberedMary Beth Finley who used to play with me
When we were girls.One year her parents gave her
A birthday toy called "The Transparent Man."
It was made of plastic, with different colored organs,
And the circulatory system all mapped out
In rivers of red and blue.She'd ask me over
And the two of us would sit and study him
Together, and do a powerful lot of giggling.
I figure he's most likely the only man
Either of us would ever get to know
Intimately, because Mary Beth became
A Sister of Mercy when she was old enough.
She must be thirty-one; she was a yearOlder than I, and about four inches taller.
I used to envy both those advantages
Back in those days.Anyway, I was struck
Right from the start by the sea-weed intricacy,
The fine-haired, silken-threaded filiations
That wove, like Belgian lace, throughout the head.
But this last week it seems I have found myself
Looking beyond, or through, individual trees
At the dense, clustered woodland just behind them,
Where those great, nameless crowds patiently stand.
It's become a sort of complex, ultimate puzzle
And keeps me fascinated.My eyes are twenty-twenty,
Or used to be, but of course I can't unravel
The tousled snarl of intersecting limbs,
That mackled, cinder grayness.It's a riddle
Beyond the eye's solution.Impenetrable.
If there is order in all that anarchy
Of granite mezzotint, that wilderness,
It takes a better eye than mine to see it.
It set me on to wondering how to deal
With such a thickness of particulars,
Deal with it faithfully, you understand,
Without blurring the issue. Of course I know
That within a month the sleeving snows will come
With cold, selective emphases, with massings
And arbitrary contrasts, rendering things
Deceptively simple, thickening the twigs
To frosty veins, bestowing epaulets
And decorations on every birch and aspen.
And the eye, self-satisfied, will be misled,
Thinking the puzzle solved, supposing at last
It can look forth and comprehend the world.
That's when you have to really watch yourself.
So I hope that you won't think me plain ungrateful
For not selecting one of your fine books,
And I take it very kindly that you came
And sat here and let me rattle on this way.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Transparent Man: A Masterpiece of Poetry

As a literary masterpiece, The Transparent Man by Anthony Hecht is a poem that captures the essence of the human experience with a great deal of depth and thoughtfulness. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the various themes and symbols that Hecht employs to convey his message and explore the nuances of his poetic style.

Background and Context

First, it is essential to consider the historical and societal context in which Hecht wrote The Transparent Man. Published in 1990, the poem comes at a time of great change in the world, with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era of global interconnectedness. These societal changes are reflected in the poem's exploration of identity, which is a recurring theme throughout Hecht's work.


At its core, The Transparent Man is a poem about identity and the struggle to maintain a sense of self in a world that can be alienating and disorienting. Hecht uses a variety of symbols to explore this theme, including the titular "transparent man," who represents the loss of individuality and the subsuming of the self into society.

Hecht also explores the theme of mortality, particularly in the second section of the poem, where he contemplates the inevitability of death and the transience of human life. This theme is conveyed through vivid imagery, such as the "morgue light" that casts a "ghastly pall" over the scene, and the "cemetery grass" that serves as a reminder of our ultimate destination.


As mentioned earlier, the "transparent man" is a central symbol in the poem, representing the loss of individuality and the subsuming of the self into society. Hecht uses this symbol to explore the tension between the desire to fit in and the need to maintain one's individuality. The transparent man is an empty vessel, devoid of any defining characteristics, and exists solely to conform to the expectations of others.

Another key symbol in the poem is the "mirror," which is used to represent the idea of self-reflection and introspection. Hecht uses the mirror as a metaphor for the human psyche, suggesting that we must look within ourselves to find our true identity and understand our place in the world.

Poetic Style

In terms of poetic style, Hecht employs a variety of techniques to convey his message, including vivid imagery, metaphor, and rhyme. His use of rhyme is particularly noteworthy, as he employs a strict rhyme scheme throughout the poem, which creates a sense of unity and cohesion.

Hecht's use of vivid imagery is also noteworthy, as he paints a vivid picture of the world around us through his words. For example, in the second section of the poem, he describes the "cemetery grass" as "bowed and brittle," which creates a sense of desolation and decay.


In conclusion, The Transparent Man is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the complexities of the human experience with great depth and thoughtfulness. Through his use of symbols and poetic techniques, Hecht conveys a powerful message about identity, mortality, and the struggle to find meaning in a chaotic and ever-changing world. This poem is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the depths of the human psyche and the complexities of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Transparent Man: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Anthony Hecht's "The Transparent Man" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the themes of identity, mortality, and the human condition. The poem is a haunting and powerful meditation on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. Hecht's use of language and imagery is masterful, and his ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through his words is truly remarkable.

The poem begins with a description of a man who is "transparent," meaning that he is invisible to the world around him. He is a ghostly figure, a specter who exists on the fringes of society, unnoticed and unacknowledged. Hecht uses this image to explore the idea of identity and the ways in which we construct our sense of self. The transparent man is a symbol of the ways in which we can become disconnected from ourselves and from the world around us.

As the poem progresses, Hecht delves deeper into the theme of mortality. The transparent man is described as being "like a ghost," and Hecht uses this image to explore the idea of death as a kind of haunting presence in our lives. He suggests that death is always with us, lurking in the shadows, and that we are never truly free from its grasp.

Hecht's use of language is particularly striking in this section of the poem. He employs a series of metaphors and similes to convey the sense of unease and foreboding that permeates the text. For example, he describes the transparent man as being "like a moth," drawn inexorably towards the flame of death. This image is both beautiful and terrifying, and it captures the complex emotions that surround the idea of mortality.

The final section of the poem is perhaps the most powerful. Hecht shifts his focus from the transparent man to the reader, asking us to consider our own mortality and the ways in which we confront the inevitability of death. He suggests that we are all, in some sense, transparent, and that we must confront our own mortality if we are to truly live.

Hecht's use of language in this section is particularly effective. He employs a series of rhetorical questions to challenge the reader and to force us to confront our own mortality. For example, he asks, "What is it that we fear?" and "What is it that we hope for?" These questions are both deeply personal and universal, and they force us to consider our own place in the world and our own mortality.

Overall, "The Transparent Man" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of the human experience. Hecht's use of language and imagery is masterful, and his ability to convey complex emotions and ideas through his words is truly remarkable. This is a poem that deserves to be read and studied by anyone who is interested in the power of language and the human condition.

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