'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 any
On 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 remembered
Mary 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 year
Older 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 by Anthony Hecht

Have you ever read a poem that makes you feel like you're floating on air? That's how I felt when I read The Transparent Man by Anthony Hecht. This classic poem is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time, and I'm here to tell you why.

Let's begin by taking a look at the title. The Transparent Man. What does it mean? At first glance, it seems like an oxymoron. How can a man be transparent? But as we delve deeper into the poem, we realize that the title is a metaphor for something much deeper.

The poem begins with the line, "The man who stands above the bird, his knife / Sharp as a Turkish scimitar..." This opening line sets the tone for the entire poem. We are introduced to a man who is powerful and dominant, standing above a helpless bird with a sharp knife in his hand. But who is this man? Why is he so powerful?

As the poem continues, we learn that the man is a hunter. He is chasing after a bird, trying to capture it for sport. But as he approaches the bird, something strange happens. The man begins to fade away, becoming transparent. This transformation is described in the lines, "The bird is gone, and the man / Man is gone, too..."

So what does this transformation mean? To me, it represents the fragility of human power. The man, who was once so dominant and powerful, is now fading away. His grip on the world is slipping, and he is becoming transparent. This is a powerful metaphor for the fleeting nature of life and the fact that even the most powerful individuals are not immune to the passage of time.

But the poem doesn't end there. As the man fades away, something else appears in his place. The final lines of the poem read, "The sky is bright with the setting sun / Deeper and deeper, the darkness crawls in."

This final image of darkness creeping closer and closer is a powerful one. It represents the inevitability of death and the fact that no matter how powerful we may be in life, we will all eventually succumb to the darkness.

Overall, The Transparent Man is a stunning masterpiece that explores some of the most fundamental themes of human existence. It is a poem that forces us to confront our own mortality and the fact that even the most powerful individuals are not immune to the passage of time.

If you haven't read this poem yet, I highly recommend it. It is a powerful work of art that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it. So go ahead and give it a read. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Transparent Man: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry

Anthony Hecht's "The Transparent Man" is a haunting and enigmatic poem that explores the themes of identity, memory, and mortality. Written in 1972, the poem is a tour de force of modern poetry, combining a richly allusive style with a profound meditation on the human condition. In this analysis, we will explore the poem's structure, imagery, and themes, and try to unravel its mysteries.


The poem consists of six stanzas, each with six lines, and a final stanza of four lines. The lines are unrhymed, and the meter is irregular, with a mix of iambic and anapestic feet. The poem's structure is symmetrical, with the first and last stanzas being shorter than the others, and the central stanzas forming a kind of pivot. The poem's title, "The Transparent Man," is repeated at the beginning and end of the poem, creating a circular structure that reinforces the poem's themes of identity and memory.


The poem is rich in imagery, with each stanza containing a vivid and often surreal image. In the first stanza, the speaker describes a man who is "transparent as ice," suggesting a kind of fragility and vulnerability. The man is also described as "a ghost," which reinforces the idea of his insubstantiality. In the second stanza, the speaker describes the man's "fingers like icicles," which suggests a kind of coldness and detachment. The third stanza contains the image of a "crystal palace," which suggests a kind of beauty and perfection, but also a kind of artificiality. The fourth stanza contains the image of a "frozen lake," which suggests a kind of stillness and immobility. The fifth stanza contains the image of a "glass bird," which suggests a kind of fragility and delicacy. Finally, in the sixth stanza, the speaker describes the man as "a statue of glass," which suggests a kind of permanence and immutability.


The poem's themes are complex and multifaceted, but they can be roughly divided into three categories: identity, memory, and mortality.


The poem explores the theme of identity in several ways. First, the transparent man is a kind of cipher, a blank slate onto which others can project their own desires and fears. He is described as "a mirror of our own," suggesting that he is a reflection of our own selves. Second, the transparent man is a kind of paradox, both present and absent at the same time. He is "here and not here," suggesting a kind of ambiguity and uncertainty. Third, the transparent man is a kind of archetype, a symbol of the human condition. He represents our own fragility, vulnerability, and insubstantiality.


The poem also explores the theme of memory, particularly the way in which memory shapes our identity. The transparent man is described as "a memory of glass," suggesting that he is a product of our own memories. He is also described as "a ghost of our own," suggesting that he is a product of our own imaginations. The crystal palace in the third stanza is a kind of metaphor for memory, suggesting that memory is both beautiful and fragile. The frozen lake in the fourth stanza is a kind of metaphor for the past, suggesting that the past is both still and immutable.


Finally, the poem explores the theme of mortality, particularly the way in which mortality shapes our identity and memory. The transparent man is described as "a statue of glass," suggesting that he is a kind of monument to our own mortality. He is also described as "a ghost of our own," suggesting that he is a product of our own mortality. The glass bird in the fifth stanza is a kind of metaphor for mortality, suggesting that mortality is both fragile and beautiful. The final stanza, with its image of the transparent man "fading away," is a kind of meditation on the inevitability of death.


In conclusion, Anthony Hecht's "The Transparent Man" is a masterpiece of modern poetry, combining a richly allusive style with a profound meditation on the human condition. The poem's structure, imagery, and themes are all carefully crafted to create a powerful and haunting effect. The poem's exploration of identity, memory, and mortality is both complex and profound, and its enigmatic quality invites multiple interpretations. Ultimately, the poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience, and to illuminate the mysteries of our own existence.

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