Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

Always there is desire, only the shape of what is desired shifts, each love giving way to another.

Because it thinks by music and image, by story and passion and voice, poetry can do what other forms of thinking cannot: approximate the actual flavor of life, in which subjective and objective become one, in which conceptual mind and the inexpressible presence of things become one.

Every morning is new as the last one, uncreased as the not quite imaginable first.

History, mythology, and folktales are filled with stories of people punished for saying the truth. Only the Fool, exempt from society's rules, is allowed to speak with complete freedom.

I don't work on poems and essays at once. They walk on different legs, speak with different tongues, draw from different parts of the psyche. Their paces are also different.

An ordinary hole beside a path through the woods might begin to open to altered worlds.

Between certainty and the real, an ancient enmity.

Every other year or so I go to one of those great generous places, the artist retreats. Some of the poems in The Beauty were written at the MacDowell Colony, in New Hampshire, and others at Civitella Ranieri, in Umbria.

Houses are fundamental metaphors for self, world, permeability, transition, interiority, exteriority, multiplicity, and the power to move from one state of being to another.

I feel like I am in the service of the poem. The poem isn't something I make. The poem is something I serve.

And that other self, who watches me from the distance of decades, what will she say? Will she look at me with hatred or with compassion, I whose choices made her what she will be?

But it also lives in the moment, in us. Emotion, intellect, and physiology are inseparably connected in the links of a poem?s sound. It is difficult to feel intimacy while shouting, to rage in a low whisper, to skip and weep at the same time.

Everything has two endings- a horse, a piece of string, a phone call. Before a life, air. And after. As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.

How else learn the real, if not by inventing what might lie outside it?

I hope my poems might offer: ?Here is one experience of life, of its possibilities, exhilarations, bewilderments, griefs. Enter. Now, here is another.? When we bring that spirit of openness, permeability, exploration, and courage into our lives and our hands, everything else follows: a deeper saturation and compassion, a recalibrating sense of proportion, an increase of the possible. Good poems make clarity without making simple. They do not erase darkness; if anything, they open into it. But wouldn?t the page of a day be dull and undistinguished, almost as if unsigned by existence, without its charcoal?

"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.

I know I shouldn?t be writing haiku now, so close to my death. But poetry is all I?ve thought of for over fifty years. When I sleep, I dream about hurrying down a road under morning clouds or evening mist. When I awaken I?m captivated by the mountain stream?s interesting sounds or the calls of wild birds. Buddha called such attachment wrong, and of this I am guilty. But I cannot forget the haiku that have filled my life.

?Openness to anything??you may have already named the central thing. When I start to write, I?m not a guide or teacher; I?m not even a poet. I?m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn?t confidence or wisdom; it?s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he?s lost his ship and all his men, before he?s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa?a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: ?this is water; this is land.? A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn?t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn?t need the poem.

Any artist, in any field, wants to press deeper, to discover further. Image and sound play are among the strongest colors available to poetry's palette. For a long time, I've wanted to invite in more strangeness, more freedom of imagination. Yet music, seeing, and meaning are also cohering disciplines. They can be stretched, and that is part of poetry's helium pleasure. But not to the point of breaking.

China: Whales follow the whale-roads. Geese, roads of magnetized air. To go great distance, exactitudes matter. Yet how often the heart that set out for Peru arrives in China, steering hard. consulting the charts the whole journey.

Existence itself is nothing if not an amazement. Good poems restore amazement.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist