'Lot's Wife' by Anthony Hecht

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The Darkness And The Light2001How simple the pleasures of those childhood days,
Simple but filled with exquisite satisfactions.
The iridescent labyrinth of the spider,
Its tethered tensor nest of polygons
Puffed by the breeze to a little bellying sail --
Merely observing this gave infinite pleasure.
The sound of rain. The gentle graphite veil
Of rain that makes of the world a steel engraving,
Full of soft fadings and faint distances.
The self-congratulations of a fly,
Rubbing its hands. The brown bicameral brain
Of a walnut. The smell of wax. The feel
Of sugar to the tongue: a delicious sand.
One understands immediately how Proust
Might cherish all such postage-stamp details.
Who can resist the charms of retrospection?

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Lot's Wife" by Anthony Hecht: A Study of Biblical Allusions and Transgressive Imagery

As soon as I started reading "Lot's Wife," I knew I was in for a treat. Anthony Hecht, the renowned American poet, has masterfully crafted a poem that not only evokes the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah but also brings it to life in a modern context.

Before I dive into my analysis of the poem, let me give you a brief summary of the biblical story. In Genesis 19, two angels arrive in Sodom and are welcomed by Lot, the nephew of Abraham. The men of the city surround Lot's house and demand that he hand over the angels so that they can have sex with them. Lot offers his virgin daughters instead, but the men refuse. The angels strike the men with blindness and urge Lot to flee the city with his family. As they leave, the angels warn them not to look back, but Lot's wife disobeys and turns into a pillar of salt.

Hecht's poem starts with a vivid description of the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The speaker, who is not identified, describes the "asphalt/tar, ash-white" landscape, the "Blasted wilderness" where "the salt wind kills." The imagery is striking and evocative, and it immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. We are in a desolate and inhospitable world, where everything has been destroyed and nothing can grow.

The next stanza introduces Lot's wife, who is described as "a woman who had too much/ In the way of salt." The biblical story doesn't give us much information about Lot's wife, other than the fact that she disobeyed the angels and looked back. Hecht, however, fleshes her out as a character, giving her a backstory and a personality. She is a woman who has been "sated with spice" and has "lived fully in the hot/spicy blood of life." The use of the words "spice" and "hot/spicy" creates a sensory image of a woman who has indulged in the pleasures of life, perhaps to excess.

The third stanza is where Hecht really starts to play with the biblical allusions. Lot's wife is described as "Lot's woman, but of course/ She was herself as well." The repetition of "of course" suggests that the speaker is a bit amused by the fact that Lot's wife is only known through her relationship to her husband. Hecht then goes on to describe Lot's wife as a "remnant" of the old world, a "vestige" of a time when "life was something else." The use of the word "vestige" suggests that Lot's wife is a relic, a symbol of a bygone era. But what era is that? Hecht doesn't specify, but the words "remnant" and "vestige" suggest something ancient and perhaps mythical.

The fourth stanza is where the poem takes a turn toward the transgressive. The speaker tells us that Lot's wife "had looked behind her as she left the city,/ And what she saw was this, that all was lovely/ Save for the lovely." The repetition of "lovely" suggests that Lot's wife was entranced by the beauty of the city, but that the beauty was tainted by something sinister. The phrase "Save for the lovely" is ambiguous, but it suggests that Lot's wife saw something that was both beautiful and horrible, something that she couldn't resist even though she knew it was dangerous.

In the fifth stanza, Hecht continues to play with the biblical allusions. Lot's wife is compared to "Orpheus, who, turning, lost his love." In the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus is allowed to bring his dead wife Eurydice back from the underworld on the condition that he doesn't look back at her until they have left. Orpheus looks back, however, and loses Eurydice forever. The comparison to Orpheus suggests that Lot's wife's disobedience and subsequent punishment are part of a larger pattern of tragic love stories.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, with the speaker returning to the desolate landscape of the beginning of the poem. Lot's wife is described as a "pillar/ Of salt" that "guarded what she had loved and looked on." The use of the word "guarded" suggests that Lot's wife's punishment was not only for her disobedience but also for her attachment to the city. She loved the city, and even though it was destroyed, she couldn't bear to leave it behind. The final image of Lot's wife as a pillar of salt is both haunting and powerful. She is frozen in time, a monument to her disobedience and her love.

In conclusion, "Lot's Wife" is a masterful poem that uses biblical allusions and transgressive imagery to explore the story of Lot's wife in a modern context. Hecht's language is rich and evocative, and his use of repetition and ambiguity creates a sense of mystery and intrigue. The poem is a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of ancient myths and legends.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Lot's Wife: A Poetic Masterpiece by Anthony Hecht

Anthony Hecht's "Lot's Wife" is a haunting and evocative poem that explores the themes of loss, regret, and the consequences of disobedience. The poem is based on the biblical story of Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hecht's poem is a powerful meditation on the human condition, and it is a testament to his skill as a poet.

The poem begins with a description of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Hecht's language is vivid and evocative, and he paints a picture of a city consumed by fire and brimstone. He writes, "The city was gone, the smoke rose up like smoke / From a burning farmhouse when the neighbors come / To see what's left, and sift the ashes for the bone." This imagery is both powerful and unsettling, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

The next stanza introduces Lot's wife, who is described as "a woman of a certain age." Hecht's description of her is both sympathetic and nuanced, and he portrays her as a complex character with her own desires and motivations. He writes, "She loved the city, and would not leave it yet, / For she was of that people born, and knew / The ways of the city, and its pleasures too." This description of Lot's wife as a woman who is torn between her love for the city and her duty to leave it is both poignant and relatable.

The poem then takes a turn, and Lot's wife is transformed into a pillar of salt. Hecht's description of this transformation is both vivid and surreal, and he writes, "Her body, / Like a pillar of salt, became a thing / That stood, and stood, and stood, and did not move." This image is both haunting and powerful, and it captures the sense of loss and regret that permeates the poem.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as it explores the consequences of disobedience. Hecht writes, "And so it is with us, who daily tread / Upon the ruins of our lives, for we / Are also disobedient, we also look back." This final stanza is a powerful reminder of the consequences of our actions, and it serves as a warning to the reader to be mindful of their own choices.

In conclusion, Anthony Hecht's "Lot's Wife" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of loss, regret, and the consequences of disobedience. Hecht's language is vivid and evocative, and he paints a picture of a world consumed by fire and brimstone. The poem is a testament to Hecht's skill as a poet, and it is a powerful meditation on the human condition.

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