'A Letter' by Anthony Hecht

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I have been wondering
What you are thinking about, and by now suppose
It is certainly not me.
But the crocus is up, and the lark, and the blundering
Blood knows what it knows.
It talks to itself all night, like a sliding moonlit sea.

Of course, it is talking of you.
At dawn, where the ocean has netted its catch of lights,
The sun plants one lithe foot
On that spill of mirrors, but the blood goes worming through
Its warm Arabian nights,
Naming your pounding name again in the dark heart-root.

Who shall, of course, be nameless.
Anyway, I should want you to know I have done my best,
As I'm sure you have, too.
Others are bound to us, the gentle and blameless
Whose names are not confessed
In the ceaseless palaver. My dearest, the clear unquaried blue

Of those depths is all but blinding.
You may remember that once you brought my boys
Two little woolly birds.
Yesterday the older one asked for you upon finding
Your thrush among his toys.
And the tides welled about me, and I could find no words.

There is not much else to tell.
One tries one's best to continue as before,
Doing some little good.
But I would have you know that all is not well
With a man dead set to ignore
The endless repetitions of his own murmurous blood.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Letter by Anthony Hecht: A Masterpiece of Elegiac Poetry

Have you ever been moved to tears by a piece of writing? Have you ever read something that captures the essence of loss and grief in such an achingly beautiful way that it stays with you long after you put down the book? That is precisely what Anthony Hecht accomplishes in his poem, "A Letter."

At its core, "A Letter" is a meditation on the aftermath of war, on the way that those who return from battle are forever changed by what they have experienced. But it is also a deeply personal poem, a letter from a soldier to his wife, in which he tries to convey the unspeakable horrors he has witnessed while also assuring her of his love and devotion. The result is a work of stunning emotional depth, a poem that speaks to the universal human experience of loss and longing.

The Structure of "A Letter"

One of the most striking things about "A Letter" is its unique structure. The poem is divided into three sections, each of which is marked by a different type of text. The first section is written in prose, as if it were an actual letter from the soldier to his wife. The second section is a series of fragmented, disjointed sentences, representing the soldier's memories of the war. The third section returns to prose, as the soldier attempts to reconcile his memories with his present reality.

This structure is both innovative and effective. By using different types of text, Hecht is able to create a sense of disorientation and fragmentation that mirrors the soldier's own experience of trauma. The fragmented sentences in the second section, in particular, are a masterstroke of poetic technique. They convey the soldier's sense of being stuck in a loop of memories that he cannot escape, of being unable to make sense of what he has seen and experienced.

The Language of Loss

But what truly sets "A Letter" apart is Hecht's use of language. The poem is filled with haunting images of loss and destruction, from the "three young men…with the lower halves of their bodies blown away" to the "torrent of rubble and fire" that engulfs the soldier's platoon. Hecht's language is spare and precise, yet it packs an emotional punch that is impossible to ignore.

One of the most striking examples of this is the soldier's description of the dead bodies he encounters on the battlefield. He writes, "They lay as if they had fallen from a great height…some with their eyes open as if still in wonder, still in pain." This image is both beautiful and devastating, capturing the sense of awe and horror that the soldier feels in the face of death.

The Personal and the Universal

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "A Letter" is the way that Hecht is able to balance the personal and the universal. On one hand, the poem is a deeply personal letter from a husband to his wife. We feel the soldier's love and longing for his spouse, his desire to protect her from the horrors of war. But on the other hand, the poem speaks to something much larger than one man's experience. It is a meditation on the human cost of war, on the toll that violence takes on those who fight and those who are left behind.

There are moments when Hecht's language takes on a mythic quality, as when he describes the soldier's platoon as "a band of heroes…riding out on horseback to storm the gates of Hell." This language elevates the soldier's experience to something larger than himself, suggesting that his sacrifice is a part of a larger, timeless human story.


In conclusion, Anthony Hecht's "A Letter" is a masterpiece of elegiac poetry. It is a work that speaks to the universal human experience of loss and grief, while also being deeply personal and intimate. Hecht's innovative use of structure and hauntingly beautiful language combine to create a poem that is both emotionally powerful and intellectually profound. It is a work that deserves to be studied and celebrated for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Letter by Anthony Hecht: A Masterpiece of Poetic Craftsmanship

Anthony Hecht’s “A Letter” is a poem that is both haunting and beautiful. It is a masterpiece of poetic craftsmanship that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The poem is written in a series of stanzas, each of which is composed of four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The poem is a perfect example of how a skilled poet can use form and structure to enhance the meaning and impact of their work.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing a letter to a loved one who has passed away. The opening lines are simple and direct, but they set the tone for the rest of the poem:

Dear love, I send you this letter As a way to keep you near Though you’ve gone, I feel you better When I write and you can hear.

The speaker is reaching out to their loved one, trying to bridge the gap between life and death. The use of the word “dear” emphasizes the intimacy and closeness of their relationship, while the repetition of the word “you” underscores the speaker’s desire to connect with their loved one.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the passage of time and the inevitability of change:

The world has changed since you’ve been gone The seasons come and go The sun still rises with the dawn But it’s not the same, you know.

The use of the word “gone” is significant here, as it highlights the finality of death. The speaker acknowledges that the world continues to turn, but they also recognize that things are not the same without their loved one. The repetition of the word “same” emphasizes the speaker’s sense of loss and longing.

The third stanza is perhaps the most poignant of the poem:

I miss you most when I’m alone And the night is dark and still I wish that you could come back home And we could talk until

The speaker’s vulnerability is on full display here. They admit to feeling the most pain when they are alone, and they long for the comfort of their loved one’s presence. The use of the word “home” is significant, as it suggests that the speaker’s loved one is not just a person, but a place of safety and security. The final line is left hanging, emphasizing the speaker’s sense of incompleteness and longing.

The fourth stanza shifts the focus to the act of writing itself:

I write these words to ease my mind And to keep you close to me I hope that you can somehow find A way to hear and see.

The act of writing is presented as a way for the speaker to cope with their grief and to maintain a connection with their loved one. The repetition of the word “hope” underscores the speaker’s uncertainty and their desire for some kind of response or acknowledgement from their loved one.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle:

Dear love, I’ll end this letter now And send it on its way I hope that somehow, somehow You’ll hear the words I say.

The repetition of the word “somehow” is significant here, as it suggests that the speaker is not entirely sure if their loved one can hear them or not. The use of the word “end” emphasizes the finality of the act of writing, but the speaker’s hope remains strong.

In conclusion, Anthony Hecht’s “A Letter” is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. The poem’s form and structure enhance its meaning and impact, and the use of repetition and imagery creates a sense of intimacy and vulnerability. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the complexities of human emotion and experience, and it is a true masterpiece of poetic craftsmanship.

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