Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

I want to preserve a certain unknowing about my own poems - perhaps because unknowing is in itself a useful poetic thirst. To move the perimeter of saying outside my own boundaries is one reason I write.

In the dream life you don't deliberately set out to dream about a house night after night; the dream itself insists you look at whatever is trying to come into visibility.

Life is short. But desire, desire is long.

Passion does not make careful arguments: it declares itself, and that is enough.

Poetry's work is the clarification and magnification of being.

The eight years I spent in full-time practice of Zen during my twenties made me who I am; that experience and its continuing life in my life underlie everything I've done since. 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. Still, there are no more explicit references to Buddhism in my work than there are in the work of a number of people who have never undertaken that kind of life. For quite a few years I didn't allow the practice part of my life to become known -- not because it isn't important to me but because it is private.

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.

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.

I want to understand the piers of language and music and comprehension that can hold up a building even when what the building houses is an earthquake. This thinking must surely come into the poems I write, but more by osmosis than will.

In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit, for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly. Matsuo Bash?, Journal of a Travel-Worn Satchel (tr. Nobuyuki Yuasa)

Making a spark requires two things struck together.

People talk about poetry's having a diminished life in the current culture, or else they talk about its current renaissance, but I think that in good times or bad times for poetry as a whole, people will always have periods in their lives when they turn to poetry. Dealing with grief or falling in love, people will look for a poem or perhaps write one in the attempt to sort through and understand their most powerful experiences. Or, for the occasions of large transition -- a marriage or a funeral -- they will ask someone to read a poem that marks and holds the feeling. One of the jobs of poets is to keep making those holding words available, so that when other people need them they will be there.

Sam Hamill is a writer unabashedly taking his place within the community of literature and the community of all sentient beings-his fidelity is to the magnificent truth of existence, and to its commensurate singing.

The experience of an enlarged intimacy is not the only reason to want art in our lives, but it is a central reason. The windows that break open the boundaries of a poem, piece of music, or painting do the same work: they awaken and give entrance to what might otherwise not be recognized, felt, or known as inseparably part of the story.

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.

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.

I will never become a horse trainer, a biologist, a person competent with a hammer. My loves were my loves.

In times of darkness and direness, a good question can become a safety rope between you and your own sense of selfhood: A person who asks a question is not wholly undone by events. She is there to face them, to meet them. If you?re asking a question, you still believe in a future.

Metaphors get under your skin by ghosting right past the logical mind.

Perimeter is not meaning, but it changes meaning, as wit increases distance, and compassion erodes it.

Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags, being careful between the trees to leave extra room.

The first poem in The Beauty holds a woman in Portugal in a wheelchair singing, with great power, a fado. I have never seen this or heard of it, the image simply arrived. But surely such a thing has happened. And it matters to me that it has, or could.

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

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist