Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator

Author Quotes

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.

Tree: It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house. Even in this one lifetime, you will have to choose. That great calm being, this clutter of soup pots and books-- Already the first branch-tips brush at the window. Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Within the silence, expansion, and sustained day by day concentration, I grow permeable.

There are openings in our lives of which we know nothing.

Under each station of the real, another glimmers.

Words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins.

There are worlds in which nothing is adjective, everything noun.

Violinists practicing scales and dancers repeating the same movements over decades are not simply warming up or mechanically training their muscles. They are learning how to attend unswervingly, moment by moment, to themselves and their art; learning to come into steady presence, free from the distractions of interest or boredom.

Wrong solitude vinegars the soul, right solitude oils it.

There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of light stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor, or the one red leaf the snow releases in March

Voice? is the body language of a poem ? the part that cannot help but reveal what it is. Everything that has gone into making us who we are is held there. Yet we also speak of writers ?finding their voice.? The phrase is both meaningful and odd, a perennial puzzle: how can we ?find? what we already use? The answer lies, paradoxically, in the quality of listening that accompanies self-aware speech: singers, to stay in tune, must hear not only the orchestral music they sing with, but also themselves. Similarly, writers who have ?found a voice? are those whose ears turn at once inward and outward, both toward their own nature, thought patterns, and rhythms, and toward those of the culture at large.

You can't write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator