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The Dover Bitch -- Anthony Hecht

Guest poem sent in by Nisha Susan
(Poem #1930) The Dover Bitch
 So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
 With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
 And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
 And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
 All over, etc., etc.'
 Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
 Sophocles in a fairly good translation
 And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
 But all the time he was talking she had in mind
 The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
 On the back of her neck. She told me later on
 That after a while she got to looking out
 At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
 Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
 And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
 And then she got really angry. To have been brought
 All the way down from London , and then be addressed
 As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
 Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
 Anyway, she watched him pace the room
 And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
 And then she said one or two unprintable things.
 But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
 She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
 And she always treats me right. We have a drink
 And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
 Before I see her again, but there she is,
 Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
 And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.
-- Anthony Hecht
Having recently discovered Anthony Hecht I am alternating between postures
of extreme surprise at others who have not read him and indignation at those
who have and not told me that he exists.

This particular poem is such a satisfying parody with its wide-eyed Holden
Caulfield taunts at Mathew Arnold and mock-earnestness. Hecht has also
written hilarious imitations of Horace's odes as if Horace was a
lotus-eating New Yorker who wrote for Vogue. Hecht's poems do that tricky
dance of being full of literary, even classical allusion and yet being very
accessible and fun. Perepateia for instance is a poem for anyone who likes
to go to the theatre. And the toothsome beauty of the poem is evident even
when one has no clue who ... is.

For the critics of course Anthony Hecht is an important poet because he
wrote about the Holocaust and war.



We've run Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach":

A well-written obit:

Biographical details

60 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ajit Narayanan said...

Hi Martin, Thomas,
Regarding the Hecht poem, you may also be interested in knowing that
Hecht was (along with John Hollander) the inventor of a very
whimsical form of poetry called the 'double dactyl'.


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