Ernest Hilbert is the author of Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, and Caligulan, which was selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize. His fourth collection, Last One Out, appeared in March 2019. He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a rare book dealer and book critic for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. His poem “Mars Ultor” was included in Best American Poetry 2018, and his poems appear in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, The New Republic, American Scholar, and the London Review. Visit him at

My Father’s Dante

You were gone twenty years before I read

The book that draws me faster on to you.

The world you left got worse, and crowded too,

Charon capsized by cargoes of new dead.

I’m midway gone, in a grim winter mood,

Pinned by all I did, instead of what I could.

Among the lessons I failed till now to learn

Is that, however handsome or witty,

We should expect to receive no pity.

We hurt as much from what we half-forget

As from the things we carefully conserve.

You say: There is so much more to observe.

We will descend, and see, and not regret

That we fall, we shiver—we shine and burn.


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