Poets Walk: "this bleak city"

Poets Walk: "this bleak city"

Location on Poets Walk Map: 7


Sestina de Inverno by Anthony Hecht


Here in this bleak city of Rochester,

Where there are twenty-seven words for "snow,"

Not all of them polite, the wayward mind

Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,

Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island

Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives

Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester

Have sown whole mines of salt about their land

(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow

Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.

Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,

Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives

Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making

Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester

With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.

It might be well to remember that an island

Was a blessed haven once, more than an island,

The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.

In that kind climate the mere thought of snow

Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,

Unable to conceive of Rochester,

Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making

Do than some wistful reverie of an island,

Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester

Gas and Electric Co., which doesn't mind

Such profitable weather, while the natives

Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,

The single verity of heaven's making,

Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,

And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.

Under our igloo skies the frozen mind

Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,

Where to the natives destiny is snow

That is neither to our mind nor of our making.


Anthony Hecht, excerpt from "Sestina d'Inverno" from Collected Earlier Poems. Copyright © 1990 by Anthony E. Hecht. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.


Audio recording, courtesy of The Folger Shakespeare Theater, of a reading by Mr. Hecht on October 22, 1987.