Anthony Hecht was born in New York City to German-Jewish parents in 1923. As a freshman at Bard College in New York he discovered the works of Stevens, Auden, Eliot and Dylan Thomas and decided to become a poet. In 1944, after completing his final year at Bard, Hecht was drafted into the 97th Infantry Division as a rifleman and saw combat in Germany and Czechoslovakia. On 23 April, 1945, his division helped liberate the Flossenberg/Buchenwald concentration camp. He later said of this experience
The place, the suffering, the prisoners’ accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking. [Washington Post, 22 October, 2004]
After the war ended Hecht was sent to Japan as a staff writer with Stars and Stripes. He returned to the US in 1946 and studied at Kenyon College, Ohio where he met fellow poets Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Tate.
His first collection of poems, A Summoning of Stones, was published in 1954; his second, The Hard Hours, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1967. It was in this volume that Hecht first visited his war-time experiences – experiences which had caused him to have a nervous breakdown in 1959.
The often unsettling and horrific insights into the darkness of human nature told in limpid, flowing verse that characterize the poems in the collection would become Hecht’s trademark. Poetry Foundation
Hecht taught at various institutions and between 1982 and 1984 was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He died on October 20, 2004.