Thursday, October 10, 2013

`That Was All They Said'

What follows is an unlikely yoking of documents separated by form, sensibility and three and a half centuries. What they share is close attention to language and the brevity of life. 

In a 1997 letter to the literary scholar Eleanor Cook, Anthony Hecht identifies the source of the epigraph to a poem by his friend James Merrill as Edmund Bolton’s “A Palinode” (p. 283, The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht).  The name was new to me but I found the poem online, accompanied by Carol Ruman’s thoughtful gloss. The title of Bolton’s poem is the first citation for the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. His ingenious double-sonnet has the elegant complexity of a good equation. It concludes: “Oh, what is praise, pomp, glory, joy, but so / As shine by fountains, bubbles, flowers or snow?” Ruman comments with comparable wit: “Evanescence wins, but evanescence itself is temporary.” 

On Tuesday I exchanged emails with a reader regarding a recent essay by Joseph Epstein on Red Smith, the sports writer. I explained that I’ve never been interested in sports, even as a boy, but I’ve read and admired Smith’s work (confirming my suspicion that the best poets and journalists have much in common, especially precision and concision). In return, my reader sent a link to a story about the death of a thoroughbred by W.C. Heinz first published in 1949 by the New York Sun. I knew Heinz only as the author of The Professional (1958), a good novel about boxing (another subject I have little interest in but enjoy reading about if the writer is Hazlitt, Liebling or Heinz). Heinz skirts sentimentality. One false move could have wrecked his story, which concludes: 

“That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two vets removing the broken bones as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rushed for the cover of the stables, leaving alone on his side near the pile of bricks, the rain running off his hide, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Air Lift, son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault.” 

[Can anyone identify which Merrill poem Hecht refers to?]

1 comment:

Buce said...

"the best poets and journalist"-you might want to refine that to sports journalists or more conventionally, sports writers. Survey your own well-furnished memory and I suspect that most of the really dazzling newspaper prose you remember was on the sports page.

I speak with envy. Like you, I was never an enthusiast for the real thing but ah, the commentary.