Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

The Promise: Stay, I said to the cut flowers. They bowed their heads lower. Stay, I said to the spider, who fled. Stay, leaf. It reddened, embarrassed for me and itself. Stay, I said to my body. It sat as a dog does, obedient for a moment, soon starting to tremble. Stay, to the earth of riverine valley meadows, of fossiled escarpments, of limestone and sandstone. It looked back with a changing expression, in silence. Stay, I said to my loves. Each answered, Always.

There?s, of course, another stage of things, after the first draft is written, in which other knowledges and intentions do come in. You have to know enough to be dissatisfied with the easy phrase, with the false or timid gesture, and also with the masks of style or stance. You have to want, more than anything else, to make your own discovery each time. You have to welcome both your own strangeness and your own fierceness. And you have to have an ear, an eye, that will recognize when a poem has stumbled in its music, seeing, courage, or path, so you can know that you need to work with it further, to ask of it more.

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.

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.

In a room with many windows some thoughts slide past uncatchable, ghostly.

Justice lacking passion fails, betrays.

One recurring dream, many others have also: you go into a familiar house, discover a door or hallway, and find the house continues into hidden rooms. Sometimes a whole second house is there, a larger and unknown extension of the familiar dwelling.

Poems? are perfume bottles momentarily unstopped?what they release is volatile and will vanish, and yet it can be released again,

Something looks back from the trees, and knows me for who I am.

The same basic attention and permeability are the beginning of poetry writing. Whatever I?ve done in both practice and poetry is a search for ways of seeing and speaking, of feeling and understanding, that draw from the limitless well of the limitless real. I?ll add, I always feel a slight dismay if I?m called a ?Zen? poet. I am not. I am a human poet, that?s all. Labels just get in the way. The fundamental wildness and mystery of existence slip every leash we try to put on them, and both meditation practice and the writing of poems are leash-slipping acts.

Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.

What you understand no longer matters.

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

In my poems though, as you say, the comic arrived fairly late. This doubtless has something to do with growing older. A person who's seen a bit of the world can't help but notice how foolish is the self-centeredness we bring to our tiny slice of existence.

Learn how to pay attention with every one of your senses, inner and outer. Read. Live. Love. Write. Then do these things more. And last, keep the window open some inches more than is comfortable.

One way poetry connects is across time... Some echo of a writer's physical experience comes into us when we read her poem.

Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.

Standing Deer: As the house of a person in age sometimes grows cluttered with what is too loved or too heavy to part with, the heart may grow cluttered. And still the house will be emptied, and still the heart. As the thoughts of a person in age sometimes grow sparer, like the great cleanness come into a room, the soul may grow sparer; one sparrow song carves it completely. And still the room is full, and still the heart. Empty and filled, like the curling half-light of morning, in which everything is still possible and so why not. Filled and empty, like the curling half-light of evening, in which everything now is finished and so why not. Beloved, what can be, what was, will be taken from us. I have disappointed. I am sorry. I knew no better. A root seeks water. Tenderness only breaks open the earth. This morning, out the window, the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.

The same words come from each mouth differently.

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

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 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.

In one recorded dialogue with a student, Bash? instructed, The problem with most poems is that they are either subjective or objective. Don?t you mean too subjective or too objective? his student asked. Bash? answered, simply, No.

Leave a door open long enough, a cat will enter. Leave food, it will stay.

Only the hunger for something beyond the personal will allow a writer to break free of one major obstacle to originality -- the fear of self-revelation.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist