Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator

Author Quotes

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.

There is no paradise, no place of true completion that does not include within its walls the unknown.

What lives in words is what words were needed to learn.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted. Begin again the story of your life.

There the beloved red sweater, bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber. Each confirming: I chose these, I. But habit is different: it chooses. And we, it's good horse, opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit.

What poems are doing is counterbalancing the mainstream tenor of our culture, which is to do, to be active, to be energetic and to prove one?s self? and one of the messages underlying all poems that move us is that we have nothing at all to prove

You must try, the voice said, to become colder. I understood at once. It's like the bodies of gods: cast in bronze, braced in stone. Only something heartless could bear the full weight.

Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.

What some could not have escaped others will find by decision.

Your fate is to be yourself, both punishment and crime.

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.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator