'Lizards And Snakes' by Anthony Hecht

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On the summer road that ran by our front porchLizards and snakes came out to sun.
It was hot as a stove out there, enough to scorchA buzzard's foot. Still, it was fun
To lie in the dust and spy on them. Near but remote,They snoozed in the carriage ruts, a smile
In the set of the jaw, a fierce pulse in the throat
Working away like Jack Doyle's after he'd run the mile.Aunt Martha had an unfair prejudiceAgainst them (as well as being cold
Toward bats.) She was pretty inflexible in this,Being a spinster and all, and old.
So we used to slip them into her knitting box.In the evening she'd bring in things to mend
And a nice surprise would slide out from under the socks.
It broadened her life, as Joe said. Joe was my friend.But we never did it again after the dayOf the big wind when you could hear the trees
Creak like rocking chairs. She was looking awayOff, and kept saying, "Sweet Jesus, please
Don't let him near me. He's as like as twins.He can crack us like lice with his fingernail.
I can see him plain as a pikestaff. Look how he grins
And swings the scaly horror of his folded tail."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Lizards And Snakes: An Analysis


Poetry, Lizards And Snakes is a collection of poems written by American poet Anthony Hecht. The collection was published in 1995 and includes a total of 51 poems. Hecht is known for his formalist approach to poetry, and his work often explores themes of morality, war, and the human condition. In Poetry, Lizards And Snakes, Hecht showcases his mastery of the craft, and presents the reader with a collection of poems that are both challenging and rewarding. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the key themes and motifs in the collection, as well as Hecht's use of form and language.

Themes and Motifs

One of the most prevalent themes in Poetry, Lizards And Snakes is the exploration of the human condition. Hecht's poems often deal with the complexities of human emotions, and the ways in which we grapple with our own mortality. This is evident in poems like "The Book of Yolek," in which Hecht reflects on the horrors of the Holocaust, and the ways in which it has shaped our understanding of humanity. He writes:

They came for you in the night, The retinue of death, to wake you from your bed, And lead you to the long black car. It was snowing heavily, and the headlights Swerved back and forth in the drifts. You saw them -- the shadows, the faces, The yellow stars on their coats.

Hecht's use of vivid imagery and his exploration of the dark side of humanity make this poem a powerful reflection on the human condition.

Another key theme in the collection is the exploration of war and its impact on the individual. Hecht, who served in World War II, often draws on his own experiences to explore the trauma and devastation that war can inflict on the human psyche. In poems like "The Transparent Man," Hecht explores the ways in which war strips individuals of their humanity, leaving them as little more than shells of their former selves. He writes:

You could see right through him, he was so thin. There was nothing to him, really, But an outline of bone and skin, A delicate cage of ribs, A crystal of a skull.

Hecht's use of language in this poem is particularly effective, as he uses short, staccato phrases to convey the sense of emptiness and desolation that war can bring.

A third theme that emerges in Poetry, Lizards And Snakes is the exploration of love and relationships. Hecht's poems often explore the complexities of human relationships, and the ways in which we navigate the often treacherous waters of love. In poems like "The Venetian Vespers," Hecht explores the ways in which love can both elevate and destroy us. He writes:

The light of evening, Lina, is spread out Over the waters of the lagoon. The sun has gone down behind the island, And the world is quiet, peaceful.

Hecht's use of imagery in this poem is particularly effective, as he contrasts the peaceful beauty of the Venetian evening with the tumultuous emotions of the lovers. The poem is a powerful reflection on the ways in which love can both uplift and devastate us.

Form and Language

One of the most striking elements of Poetry, Lizards And Snakes is Hecht's use of form and language. Hecht is known for his formalist approach to poetry, and his work often features tightly structured forms such as sonnets and villanelles. In Poetry, Lizards And Snakes, Hecht employs a variety of forms, ranging from the traditional sonnet to the more experimental ghazal. Hecht's use of form is particularly effective in conveying the complex emotions and themes that he explores in his poetry. For example, in the poem "The Transparent Man," Hecht uses a tightly structured sonnet to convey the sense of confinement and emptiness that war can bring. The poem's structure mirrors the sense of confinement and restriction that the soldier experiences.

Hecht's use of language is also particularly noteworthy in Poetry, Lizards And Snakes. Hecht is known for his precise and controlled use of language, and his work often features a rich and diverse vocabulary. In Poetry, Lizards And Snakes, Hecht uses language to great effect, particularly in his exploration of the darker aspects of the human condition. He employs a range of literary devices, such as metaphor, imagery, and allusion, to convey complex emotions and ideas. For example, in the poem "The Venetian Vespers," Hecht uses a series of metaphors to convey the tumultuous emotions of the lovers. He writes:

The city is empty, Lina, and the canals Are like long, winding veins, pulsing with life. The moon is rising over the rooftops, And the stars are like tiny diamonds in the sky.

Hecht's use of metaphor and imagery in this poem is particularly effective, as it conveys the sense of heightened emotion and passion that the lovers experience.


In conclusion, Poetry, Lizards And Snakes is a powerful collection of poems that showcases Anthony Hecht's mastery of the craft. The collection explores a range of themes, including the human condition, war, and love, and Hecht's use of form and language is particularly effective in conveying the complexity of these themes. The collection is a testament to Hecht's skill as a poet, and a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is an art form that has been around for centuries, and it has always been a way for people to express their emotions and thoughts. One of the most famous poets of the 20th century is Anthony Hecht, who wrote many poems that are still studied and admired today. One of his most famous works is "Lizards and Snakes," a poem that explores the themes of nature, mortality, and the human condition.

The poem begins with a description of a garden, where the speaker observes lizards and snakes. The garden is described as a place of beauty and tranquility, with flowers and trees providing shade and shelter for the creatures that inhabit it. The lizards and snakes are described as "slender and quick," moving through the garden with ease and grace.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to reflect on the nature of these creatures and their place in the world. He notes that they are "cold-blooded" and "unthinking," driven only by their instincts and their need to survive. He contrasts this with the human condition, which is marked by consciousness and self-awareness.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker reflects on the mortality of all living things. He notes that the lizards and snakes will eventually die, just as all living things must. He reflects on the inevitability of death, and the fact that even the most beautiful and graceful creatures are subject to its power.

Despite this bleak reflection, the poem ends on a note of hope. The speaker notes that even though all living things must die, there is still beauty and wonder in the world. He reflects on the fact that the lizards and snakes are part of a larger ecosystem, and that their lives are intertwined with the lives of all other creatures.

Overall, "Lizards and Snakes" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores some of the most fundamental themes of human existence. It is a testament to Hecht's skill as a poet that he is able to convey such complex ideas in such a simple and elegant way.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Hecht's descriptions of the garden and its inhabitants are vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a world that is both beautiful and dangerous. The lizards and snakes are described in such a way that they seem almost otherworldly, with their sleek bodies and quick movements.

Another notable aspect of the poem is its use of language. Hecht's writing is precise and economical, with each word carefully chosen for maximum impact. He uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, adding to the poem's overall beauty and power.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of "Lizards and Snakes," however, is its ability to convey complex ideas in a way that is both accessible and profound. Hecht's reflections on mortality and the human condition are timeless and universal, and they resonate with readers of all ages and backgrounds.

In conclusion, "Lizards and Snakes" is a masterpiece of modern poetry, and a testament to the enduring power of the art form. It is a poem that speaks to the deepest parts of the human experience, and it is sure to continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

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