issue 27 > nonfiction > hoffman > zaranka
"With Serendipity, as in a Rhyme": in Honor of Dan Hoffmanby Bill Zaranka
It was Dan Hoffman who, back in l975, gave me the extraordinary opportunity to be his junior colleague at Penn. I remember he arranged for my introductory reading to the Penn community in the Philomathean room, where a poster identified me as "Poet-Professor, Bill Zaranka," an appellation which tickled two of his most talented and formidable students at that time, Edward Hirsch and Susan Stewart. What was I doing in such company, which even to this day intimidates me? I could not say. Only Dan Hoffman knew, whose An Armada of Thirty Whales had pleased Auden, and whose hard accentuals in "The Seals of Penobscot Bay" (and lilting anapests in "An Armada") sang in my head. With the National Book Award nominated book Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, he was closing in on a dozen books of poems and literary criticism! Had he chosen to hang a shingle on his Bennett Hall door, it might have read "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress," or "Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets." Yet how modest, and kind, and gentle a mentor was Dan Hoffman! And how hospitable, he and his gracious wife Elizabeth, at their house in Swarthmore, where my wife Ruth and I spent so many pleasant evenings.
When I returned to the University of Denver in 1978, Dan Hoffman and I began a correspondence that has lasted to this day. He is now ninety and I am retired. Still, I am astonished by his productivity and youthful purpose. His book of splendidly crafted sonnets, Makes You Stop And Think, arrived, it seems, just yesterday, in 2006. In one of these "sacred vessels," I find Dan Hoffman in perfect Petrarchan repose and grand meditation on love, poetry, scholarship, time, fate, form, life and afterlife. Here is "Miracles," dedicated to Elizabeth:
Where are the scholars who can comprehend
If there's a Mind that planned the universe?
Now that we know even the farthest stars
Cannot yet touch the end--is there an end?--
Of blackness, for the fading glints they send
Toward us have travelled fourteen million years
From where they were when the gleam we see appears,
While deep and deeper in the dark they wend--
Miraculous? Not more so than the Scheme
That through infinitudes of Space, of Time
And generations brought us together, so
We'll give fulfillment to its destined Theme--
The more than life-long love that links us two
With serendipity, as in a rhyme.
For this miracle, and so many others he has wrought in his life, I salute my friend and mentor, Dan Hoffman.