Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

I'd say that the middle stanza is closer: that's the place where the poem ranges unexpectedly into a different realm.

It is, of course, we who house poems as much as their words, and we ourselves must be the locus of poetry's depth of newness. Still, the permeability seems to travel both ways: a changed self will find new meanings in a good poem, but a good poem also changes the shape of the self. Having read it, we are not who we were the moment before... Art lives in what it awakens in us... Through a good poem's eyes we see the world liberated from what we would have it do. Existence does not guarantee us destination, nor trust, nor equity, nor one moment beyond this instant's almost weightless duration. It is a triteness to say that the only thing to be counted upon is that what you count on will not be what comes. Utilitarian truths evaporate: we die. Poems allow us not only to bear the tally and toll of our transience, but to perceive, within their continually surprising abundance, a path through the grief of that insult into joy.

My job as a human being as well as a writer is to feel as thoroughly as possible the experience that I am part of, and then press it a little further.

Poems are always interested in what Ivan Illich called 'shadow work,' not least because that is no small part of their own way of working.

So few the grains of happiness measured against all the dark and still the scales balance.

The heft of a life in the hands grows both lighter and weightier. Over time, my life has become more saturated with its shape and made-ness, while my poems have become more and more free. The first word of every poem might be "Yes." The next words: "And then."

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

Under each station of the real, another glimmers.

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

If truth is the lure, humans are fishes.

It was like this: you were happy, then you were sad, then happy again, then not. It went on. You were innocent or you were guilty. Actions were taken, or not. At times you spoke, at other times you were silent. Mostly, it seems you were silent?what could you say? Now it is almost over. Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life. It does this not in forgiveness?between you, there is nothing to forgive?but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment he sees the bread is finished with transformation. Eating, too, is a thing now only for others. It doesn't matter what they will make of you or your days: they will be wrong, they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man, all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention. Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad, you slept, you awakened. Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Near even a candle, the visible heat. So it is with a person in love.

Poems carry shimmer, multiplicity, undertow, mystery, kites of meaning and feeling so elusive they cannot be seen, yet they tauten the string that holds them.

So much of our lives depends on accidents of birth, time, and geography. This haunts me. In some lives, few "or"s are possible. The pain of that is behind the second stanza of this poem.

The moon and sun are travelers of a hundred generations. The years, coming and going, are wanderers too. Spending a lifetime adrift on boat decks, greeting old age while holding a horse by the mouth?for such a person, each day is a journey, and the journey itself becomes home.

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.

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

If you see for yourself, hear for yourself, and enter deeply enough this seeing and hearing, all things will speak with and through you.

It's easy to say yes to being happy, but it's harder to agree to grief and loss and transience and to the fact that desire is fathomless and ultimately unfillable. At some point I realized that you don't get a full human life if you try to cut off one end of it, that you need to agree to the entire experience, to the full spectrum of what happens.

Neither a person entirely broken nor one entirely whole can speak. In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

Poems' deep work is a matter of language, but also a matter of life. One part of that work is to draw into our awareness and into language itself the unobvious and the unexpected.

Solitude, whether endured or embraced, is a necessary gateway to original thought.

The moonlight builds its cold chapel again out of piecemeal darkness.

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

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist