Born in the shortest days of winter, the Capricorn begins life with the primitive terror that the sun might fail entirely. Therefore, select natives of this sign anxiously adhere to high principles. They are disciplined, responsible and determined. Born January 16, Anthony Hecht was an exemplary Capricorn.
In "The Hard Hours" Hecht parodied fellow Capricorn Matthew Arnold ("The Dover Bitch"), but in another poem he straightforwardly followed Arnold's model, meditating bleakly with the beloved on the beach ("Message from the City"). With the phrase "sea-crazed Empedoclean Strife," Hecht embraced Arnoldian hopelessness. From "Witness": "Against enormous rocks of a rough coast / The ocean rams itself in pitched assault / And spastic rage to which there is no halt. / oam-white brigades collapse; but the huge host // Has infinite reserves; at each attack / The impassive cliffs look down in gray disdain / At scenes of sacrifice, unrelieved pain,/ Figured in froth, aquamarine and black . . . "
Capricorn Robinson Jeffers was also fixated on those doomy cliffs. ("Mysticism of stone, / Which failure cannot cast down / Nor success make proud.") No accdent that brds of prey figure in poems influenced by the sign of the goat. Hawks fly over Jeffers's crags. Capricorn Robert Duncan's "My Mother Would Be a Falconress" takes place in the mind of a hooded, matricidal falcon. Reach back to Capricorn Ben Jonson's Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino. Or forward to Capricorn Dana Gioia's "California Hills in August" with "a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended / in the blinding, sunlit blue." And of course Capricorn Poe's Raven.
The titles of Hecht's book tell a story of darkness and grief. Key words are stones, hard hours, vespers, tombs, shadows. The Nazis' murder of the Jews informs several deeply affecting poems. Yet Hecht, a master craftsman, is also full of play. "Le Masseur de Ma Soeur" is as clever a title as Stevens's "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle."
At least once Hecht invokes, in verse, the name of his sign. In "Le Masseur de Ma Soeur" he gives us a startling pagan vision that erupts in the midst of elaborately controlled and civilized dialogue:
. . . they yell,
"Attack the goat! O let us smite the goat!"
(An early German vision.) They are decked
With horns and beards and trappings of the brute
Capricorn, who remarked their origin.
Love, like a feather in a Roman throat,
Returned their suppers. They could not connect
Sentiment with a craving so acute.
Which you might take to describe a tribe of totemic goat hunters at the evolutionary stage prior to the development of the capacity to love and fuck.
-- Mark Shulgasser, a.k.a. the Blue Zenith,