Interpretive Imagination: Jonathan S.F. Post’s A Thickness of Particulars

Jonathan S.F. Post
A Thickness of Particulars: The Poetry of Anthony Hecht
Oxford University Press, 2015, $35

Jonathan S.F. Post approaches Anthony Hecht’s varied oeuvre with a combination of meticulousness and vision. A scholarly humility, paired with a willingness to venture broader claims about Hecht’s poetic evolution, makes A Thickness of Particulars not just essential criticism of Hecht’s work (not to mention the first comprehensive study), but an elegant illustration of how careful close readings are not just compatible with—but are indispensable to—acts of interpretive imagination. In his preface, Post imports Hecht’s phrase “A thickness of particulars” from his well-known poem “The Transparent Man” as an invitation to think with particular precision about the nuances of individual poems, and as “a call, a credo, applicable to poet and critic alike, and also, of course, a warning about the difficulty of getting things right.” It seems very clear to me that Post’s scrupulous and discerning readings of Hecht’s poetry have gotten it right.

Visiting Her

for my mother

All of these are bonds: your voice when it snags
………………..on the hope I will stay; the bright spoon

on the side of the plate; the angle of your face;
…..…..your question, your second question;

the lint you lift from my coat
…..…..……….like fog; the offers; the gifts; the clicking

of the stove. You ask what I want.
…..…..I hear you, early in the morning,

dragging the trash cans down the driveway’s ice;
…..…..……….I see you, folding my father’s clothes,

uncreasing excesses, rinsing out
…..…..a cup, writing poems in your head

Get Drunk

Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s “Enivrez-vous.”

One must always be drunk. That is the heart of the matter. So as not to feel the horrible burden of Time crushing your shoulders and bending you toward the earth, you must get drunk without rest.
But on what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue; you choose. But get drunk.

The Former Life

Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s “La Vie Antérieure”

I lived for years beneath vast porticoes
Ocean suns tinged with myriad fiery lights,
And whose upright, majestic pillars, nights,
Reminded me of vast, basaltic grottos.

The sea-swell, rolling images of the skies,
In a mystical and solemn manner bound
The all-powerful harmonies of its sound
With the sunset’s colors mirrored in my eyes.

That was the place where I lived in voluptuous calm,
Surrounded by azure skies, and splendors, and waves,
Waited on by naked, fragrant slaves

Windows

Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fenêtres”

He who looks out at the world from an open window never sees as many things as he who looks at a closed window. There is nothing deeper, more mysterious, more fruitful, more shadowy, or more dazzling than a window lit by a candle. What we can see in daylight is always less interesting than what happens behind a windowpane. Deep in that dark or luminous aperture, life lives, life dreams, life suffers.