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A Hill

August 21, 1994|ANTHONY HECHT

In Italy, where this sort of thing can occur,

I had a vision once--though you understand

It was nothing at all like Dante's, or the visions of saints,

And perhaps not a vision at all. I was with some friends,

Picking my way through a warm sunlit piazza

In the early morning. A clear fretwork of shadows

From huge umbrellas littered the pavement and made

A sort of lucent shallows in which was moored

A small navy of carts. Books, coins, old maps,

Cheap landscapes and ugly religious prints

Were all on sale. The colors and noise

Like the flying hands were gestures of exultation,

So that even the bargaining

Rose to the ear like a voluble godliness.

And then, when it happened, the noises suddenly stopped,

And it got darker; pushcarts and people dissolved

And even the great Farnese Palace itself

Was gone, for all its marble; in its place

Was a hill, mole-colored and bare. It was very cold,

Close to freezing, with a promise of snow.

The trees were like old ironwork gathered for scrap

Outside a factory wall. There was no wind,

And the only sound for a while was the little click

Of ice as it broke in the mud under my feet.

I saw a piece of ribbon snagged on a hedge,

But no other sign of life. And then I heard

What seemed the crack of a rifle. A hunter, I guessed;

At least I was not alone. But just after that

Came the soft and papery crash

Of a great branch somewhere unseen falling to earth.

And that was all, except for the cold and silence

That promised to last forever, like the hill.

Then prices came through, and fingers, and I was restored

To the sunlight and my friends. But for more than a week

I was scared by the plain bitterness of what I had seen.

All this happened about ten years ago,

And it hasn't troubled me since, but at least, today,

I remembered that hill; it lies just to the left

Of the road north of Poughkeepsie; and as a boy

I stood before it for hours in wintertime.

*

From "The Golden Ecco Anthology: 100 Great Poems of the English Language" edited by Mark Strand. (The Ecco Press: $22; 192 pp.) 1994 Reprinted by permission.

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