Photo credit: Michael Lionheart
Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief(2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990) and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994). Inspired by both Eastern and Western traditions, Hirshfield’s work encompasses a huge range of influences. “Greek and Roman lyrics, the English sonnet, those foundation stones of American poetry Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, ‘modern’ poets from T. S. Eliotto Anna Akhmatova to C. P. Cavafy to Pablo Neruda—all have added something to my knowledge of what is possible in poetry,” Hirshfield explained to Contemporary Authors. Equally influential have been classical Chinese poets Tu Fu, Li Po, Wang Wei, and Han Shan; classical Japanese Heian-Era poets Komachi and Shikibu; and such lesser-known traditions as Eskimo and Nahuatl poetry.
Hirshfield published her first poem in 1973, shortly after graduating from Princeton as a member of the university’s first graduating class to include women. She put aside her writing for nearly eight years, however, to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. “I felt that I’d never make much of a poet if I didn’t know more than I knew at that time about what it means to be a human being,” Hirshfield once said. “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.”
Hirshfield’s poetry works with short forms, spare lines, and careful imagery of natural and domestic settings. Her poems frequently hinge on a turning point or moment of insight.
About her work, the poet Rosana Warren has said: Her poems appear simple, and are not. Her language, in its cleanliness and transparency, poses riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature...Clause by clause, image by image, in language at once mysterious and commonplace, Hirshfield’s poems clear a space for reflection and change. They invite ethical awareness, and establish a delicate balance.
under stars in a field.
They lie under rain in a field.
are like this as well—
like a painting
hidden beneath another painting.
An unexpected weight
the sign of their ripeness.
For What Binds Us
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
Large moon the deep orange of embers.
Also the scent.
The griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance.
The challenge is write a new poem or prose poem inspired by the title, verse or style by Jane Hirshfield. I look forward to reading your work. Please visit and comment on the work of others. And Happy Mother's Day to all ! Grace (aka Heaven)