If a book of poems has even one poem in it that makes a reader go back again and again, then the reader can consider himself extremely fortunate, and Robert Hass' second book has a number of such poems. They are poems about limits, "the silence of separate fidelities," the self-contained integrity of things and individuals. What interests this poet is not the crisis, the big event, not "the fire" or "the ash" but "the still hour,/a deer come slowly to the creek at dusk,/the table set for abstinence . . ." His method is often to set art against life and to contrast the quietness and commonplaceness of his subjects with an intricate syntax and sonorous rhythms. In "Against Boticelli," Hass describes a man and woman who make love "simply because it is summer and they are full of longing/and sick of birth." Their act, "Like the sacking of Troy . . . survives in imagination,/in the longing brought perfectly to closing . . ." The poem ends: The woman thinks what she is feeling is like the dark and utterly complete. The man is past sadness, though his eyes are wet. He is learning about gratitude, how final it is, as if the grace in Botticelli's Primavera, the one with sad eyes who represents pleasure, had a canvas to herself, entirely to herself.
Hass leads us to belief, so that when he modestly admits that "there are limits to imagination," we wonder if there are any limits to where this fine poet's imagination can take us.