Emblazoned in the noon sun bearing down on him from a window high in the wall of the Great Hall of the Wren Building, Anthony Hecht eats his stuffed tomato and talks of his poetry, his teaching, and the bitter winters in Rochester, N.Y. Gray-bearded, gray-haired, trim, he is a handsome man, with eyes that penetrate beyond subterfuge. And later that evening, when he reads his poetry his voice penetrates to the remote corners of the room:
''They had learned/ That their tough eye-born goddess burned/ Adoring fingers... . / The holy mountain was not moved to speak./ Wind at the paper door/ Offered them snow out of its hollow peak.''
But in this noon sun, Hecht raises his water glass, catching light, and says to me, a member of the committee who has invited him to the College of William and Mary, ''Amy Clampitt is a fine poet.''
He turns to a fiction-writing student: ''I envy those who have the stamina to endure the writing of a novel. Most poems have an at least foreseeable ending.''
Stamina and endurance. Hecht has endured an intense life of teaching and art to be rewarded with an appointment as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. I would call him our poet laureate, if we believed in such things.
Frozen in a moment of regal time, King William and Queen Mary watch Hecht and me and the fiction-writing student, who will go to law school when he graduates.
''We believe in such things,'' royalty - transfixed, aloof and opulent, by painter's hand - proclaims.
But this is 20th-century America, not 17th-century England, and poetry consultant Hecht would remain.
And what of Amy Clampitt, the fine poet, recently a ''success'' in middle life? She, particularly, can stand as a symbol of encouragement for all of us who have also been working toward ''success'' and now in middle life may despair that it will ever come.
As I sit today sharing a shaft of noon light with the poet laureate, if we believed in such things, so I sat two nights earlier with Amy Clampitt in the Green Leafe - a student hangout, stereotypic-ally complete, with mind-rupturing decibels of sound. Today, in the high-ceilinged Great Hall, Hecht's voice is resonantly clear; that night I strained to catch the harsh metrics of Clampitt's recitation of Homer. And when my ears lost the contest with the PA system, I began to think how charming she was, wondering at the flowering pear tree outside her hotel, swiftly naming ''Lycidas'' her favorite poem, or quietly glowing within the cluster of students around our table. Innocent and tough, I thought. One has to be to endure.
Innocence is not the ignorance that sometimes passes for youth. Innocence must be labored for. It comes after the sustained sifting and the careful casting out of all that is false, all that is nonessential. Innocence is Anthony Hecht laughing loudly with a furrowed face, after a long day of meeting and reading to strangers. It is Amy Clampitt telling me with seriousness that bamboo grows in jointed sections, exactly as does the common grass, if I will notice. Innocence demands an eye that can see ''a kingfisher's burnished plunge, the color/ of felicity afire....''
Fifty, sixty years is not long enough - to believe such things.