Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator

Author Quotes

Thinking within the fields of image, the mind crosses also into the knowledge the unconscious holds ? into the shape-shifting wisdom of dream. Poetic concentration allows us to bring the dream-mind?s compression, displacement, wit, depth, and surprise into our waking minds. It is within dreamlife we first learn to read rain as grief, or the may that a turtle?s walking may speak of containment and an awkward, impeccable fortitude.

What we want from art is whatever is missing from the lives we are already living and making. Something is always missing, and so art-making is endless.

Zen is less the study of doctrine than a set of tools for discovering what can be known when the world is looked at with open eyes.

This garden is no metaphor - more a task that swallows you into itself, earth using, as always, everything it can.

What you understand no longer matters.

Zen pretty much comes down to three things -- everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.

This may explain why the creative is so often described as impersonal and beyond self, as if inspiration were literally what its etymology implies, something ?breathed in.? We refer, however metaphorically, to the Muse, and speak of profound artistic discovery and revelation. And however much we may come to believe that ?the real? is subjective and constructed, we still feel art is a path not just to beauty, but to truth: if ?truth? is a chosen narrative, then new stories, new aesthetics, are also new truths.

Whatever is split will carry its shadow, that second road, its yellow leaves falling and falling in the steep woods of our hundred other lives.

Zen taught me how to pay attention, how to delve, how to question and enter, how to stay with -- or at least want to try to stay with -- whatever is going on.

Time... brings us everything we have and are, then comes with a back-loader and starts taking it all away.

When I write, I don't know what is going to emerge. I begin in a condition of complete unknowing, an utter nakedness of concept or goal. A word appears, another word appears, an image. It is a moving into mystery.

Time-awareness does indeed watermark my books and my life.

When the body dies, where will they go, those migrant birds and prayer calls, as heat from sheets when taken from a dryer? With voices of the ones I loved, great loves and small loves, train wheels, crickets, clock-ticks, thunder ? where will they, when in fragrant, tumbled heat they also leave?

To be aware of a poem?s effects ? requires only our alert responsiveness, our presence to each shift in the currents of language with an answering shift in our being? at a level closer to daydream. But daydream with an added intensity: while writing, the mind moves between consciousness and the unconscious in the effortless effort of concentration. The result, if the poet?s intensity of attention is sufficient, will be a poem that brims with its own knowledge, water trembling as if miraculously above the edge of a cup. Such a poem will be perfect in the root sense of the word: ?thoroughly done.?

When your life looks back, as it will, at itself, at you--what will it say? Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool. Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from. Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many. Your life will carry you as it did always, with ten fingers and both palms, with horizontal ribs and upright spine, with its filling and emptying heart, that wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return. You gave it. What else could do? Immersed in air or in water. Immersed in hunger or anger. Curious even when bored. Longing even when running away. what will happen next?--the question hinged in your knees, your ankles, in the in-breaths even of weeping. Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in. Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face. No back of the world existed, no unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for. This, your life had said, its only pronoun. Here, your life had said, its only house. Let, your life had said, its only order. And did you have a choice in this? You did-- sleeping and waking, the horses around you, the mountains around you, the buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts. Those of your own kind around you-- a few times, you stood on your head. A few times, you chose not to be frightened. A few times, you held another beyond any measure. A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure. Mortal, your life will say, as if tasting something delicious, as if in envy. Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.

The trick, though, is to not lose compassion, to not allow the sense of absurdity to outweigh the awareness of real beings, with real feelings. Mean-spirited humor turns the world into cardboard, the way Midas's simple-minded greed turned food into inedible and useless stuff.

To feel sabi is to feel keenly one?s own sharp and particular existence amid its own impermanence, and to value the singular moment as William Blake did infinity in the palm of your hand?to feel it precise and almost-weightless as a sand grain, yet also vast.

Wherever the gaze rests, art will draw it also elsewhere, will remind that there is always more. Alice does not stop and face her own reflection in the looking-glass: she travels through it.

The untranslatable thought must be the most precise.

To remind us of the existence of others when we have fallen into the maze of interior, subjective life is one large part of the work of literature?s windows. They keep us from stifling solipsism, by returning the personal self to connection with what is beyond it.

Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means?

The world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more, and we give it.

To understand Bash??s place in Japanese poetry, it?s useful to have some sense of the literary culture he entered. The practice of the fine arts had been central to Japanese life from at least the seventh century, and virtually all educated people painted, played musical instruments, and wrote poems. In 17th century Japan, linked-verse writing was as widespread and popular as card games or Scrabble in mid-20th-century America. A certain amount of rice wine was often involved, and so another useful comparison might be made to playing pool or darts at a local bar. The closest analogy, though, can be found in certain areas of online life today. As with Dungeons and Dragons a few years ago, or Worlds of War and Second Life today, linked verse brought its practitioners into an interactive community that was continually and rapidly evolving. Hovering somewhere between art-form and competition, renga writing provided both a party and a playing field in which intelligence, knowledge, and ingenuity might be put to the test. Add to this mix some of street rap?s boundary-pushing language, and, finally, the video images of You-Tube. Now imagine the possibility that a high art form of very brief films might emerge from You-Tube, primarily out of one extraordinarily talented young film-maker?s creations and influence. In the realm of 17th-century Japanese haiku, that person was Basho.

Wild seas? sweeping over the island of exiles, heaven?s river of stars.

The writing of an assay-type poem or a poem investigating perspective isn't an exercise of rational or strategic mind. Poems for me are acts of small or large desperation. They grapple with surfaces too steep to walk in any other way, yet which have to be traveled.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator