Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

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.

Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some

I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being.

In whatever hour and place is quiet and undisturbed. I am thin of barrier between self and world, but the self who writes requires a sense of protection from outer event, before feeling able to look with enough porousness of being to find something possibly new, possibly real.

Metaphors think with the imagination and the senses. The hot chili peppers in them explode in the mouth and the mind.

Perishable, It Said: Perishable, it said on the plastic container, and below, in different ink, the date to be used by, the last teaspoon consumed. I found myself looking; now at the back of each hand, now inside the knees, now turning over each foot to look at the sole. Then at the leaves of the young tomato plants, then at the arguing jays. Under the wooden table and lifted stones, looking. Coffee cups, olives, cheeses, hunger, sorrow, fears-these too would certainly vanish, without knowing when. How suddenly then the strange happiness took me, like a man with strong hands and strong mouth, inside that hour with its perishing perfumes and clashings.

Shaped language is strangely immortal, living in a meadowy freshness outside of time.

The heart's actions are neither the sentence nor its reprieve. Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite. One bird singing back to another because it can't not.

The writer, when she or he cannot write, is a person outside the gates of her own being. Not long ago, I stood like that for months, disbarred from myself. Then, one sentence arrived; another. And I? I was a woman in love. For that also is what writing is. Every sentence that comes for a writer when actually writing?however imperfect, however inadequate?every sentence is a love poem to this world and to our good luck at being here, alive, in it.

To write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. Why write? You might as well ask a fish, why swim, ask an apple tree, why make apples? The eye wants to look, the ear wants to hear, the heart wants to feel more than it thought it could bear.

Why do I write? I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being. Any new metaphor is a telescope, a canoe in rapids, an MRI machine. And like that MRI machine, sometimes its looking is accompanied by an awful banging. To write can be frightening as well as magnetic. You don?t know what will happen when you throw open your windows and doors.

I?m always surprised the times I?ve been asked about the source of my affirmation or radiance as a writer?I think, ?Do they not see also how hard-won it is, all the grief and wrestling?? Many do see that, or include it in what they say. But sometimes it doesn?t seem to be recognized, and then I wonder, have I been too subtle? Yet, I love subtle poems, I love what pushes into comprehension signaled but not outrightly said. The huge passion of Elizabeth Bishop, almost entirely under the restraint of the surface; Larkin?s hidden terror and pity.

Isn't the small and common the field we live our life in? The large comes into a life through small-paned windows. A breath is small, but everything depends on it. A person looks at you a single, brief moment longer than is necessary, and everything is changed. The smaller the clue, the larger the meaning, it sometimes feels.

Mostly, I work without any kind of hope?my intentions in writing a new poem have nothing to do with thoughts of its effects upon others. But afterward, if my work is going to be read by others at all, I might wish my poems to bring some sense of enlargement to their readers, of feeling and thinking, and also some sense of a deepened saturation in their own lives and the lives of others: people, creatures, plants, rocks, mitochondria, images, ideas, owl calls, the sound fish make when they swim, the muscularity of a flea or of a planet in its orbit. Poems want to awaken intimacy, connection, expansion, and wildness. Other poets? poems bring this to me, so it is what I?d like my poems to bring others.

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.

Silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.

The heat of autumn is different from the heat of summer. One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.

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.

Wild seas? sweeping over the island of exiles, heaven?s river of stars.

"And" seems to me closest. "And" nods toward the real. And "and" is the path to perspective. To feel and see from more angles and know all of them true, even the incomprehensible ones, even the ones that contradict one another.

And when two people have loved each other see how it is like a scar between their bodies, stronger, darker, and proud; how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend.

Call one thing another's name long enough, it will answer.

Evolution tells us how to survive; art tells us how it's possible still to live even while knowing that we and all we love will someday vanish. It says there's beauty even in grief, freedom even inside the strictures of form and of life. What's liberating isn't what's simplest; it's the ability to include more and more shadows, colors and possibilities inside any moment's meeting of self and world.

How fine is the mesh of death. You can almost see through it.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist