Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

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.

How fragile we are, between the few good moments.

I love what pushes into comprehension signaled but not outrightly said.

A certain amount of housekeeping also goes on in my poems. I wash doorknobs, do dishes, mop floors, patch carpets, cook.

Any woodthrush shows it - he sings, not to fill the world, but because he is filled.

Clear moon, a boy afraid of foxes walked home by his lover

For me, a good poem is a poem that leaves me feeling transformed, enlarged rather than narrowed, with a greater sense of my own existence and the existence of others, with a greater capacity for being a kite available to many winds and still able to stay aloft. Good poetry is a recognizable experience, but hard to name in generality, because so many different strategies can create it. Its own awareness is also part of what creates it. Poetry makes poetry.

How sad they are, the promises we never return to. They stay in our mouths, roughen the tongue, lead lives of their own.

I need more and more silence, it feels. Poems don't leap into my mind when I'm distracted, turned outward, with other people, listening to music.

A good question can send you on a long journey in rain and cold. It can terrify, bringing you straight into your own fears, whether of heights or of loss or of all the mysteries that never go away--our own vulnerability, the heart's utter exposure, the capriciousness and fragility of events, of relationships, of existence.

Art can be defined as beauty able to transcend the circumstances of its making.

Content and form arrive for me in the same bucket?as water needs to be water, not fog, before we can drink it. I hear my poems when I write them?not as hallucination, but as an inner speaking. They arrive with a voice and a tone and a music, with rhythms, pauses. What is written down is a kind of musical notation for that first life, inside the self and inside the ear.

For me, poems are a conduit into a deepened existence. They allow me to feel and to question feeling, they allow me to think and to question thinking. To write a poem, and then to revise it?which for me is part of the writing?is in no small way a kind of Socratic dialogue you can have with yourself. I am more myself, writing, than I am when not writing, and I am also more than myself, writing, than when I am not writing. Does that make sense? All language, all the long history of human culture, comes to your hand along with the lifted pen. Of course, this enlarges who you are and what you can know.

How silently the heart pivots on its hinge.

I once was asked to contribute to a mushroom poem anthology. I didn't have anything, and so instead ended up writing the introduction. I think that request made me more alert to mushrooms, and now they've cropped up in my work, the way mushrooms themselves do after rain, quite a lot. But I've only just now taken up mushroom hunting, after going to a class offered at my local library.

A more recent poem of mine ends, ?Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.? It?s counterintuitive, isn?t it? But think about Whitman or the Greek poet Cavafy. Think about Dickinson?s poems, so awkward to the ears of readers of her own time, so precise and unflinching about everything from mystical ecstasy to the depths of despair. Each of these poets wrote knowing that most of their contemporaries would find them unacceptable, unhearable, in style, in substance. Each wrote from the furnace-heat of experience allowed its full scope, experience that turns self to fuel. Each accepted the solitude of accepted, undisguised strangeness, and yet each knew also that their words might matter enormously, eventually, to others.

Art keeps its newness because it's at once unforgettable and impossible to remember entirely. Art is too volatile, multiple and evaporative to hold on to. It's more chemical reaction, one you have to re-create each time, than a substance. Art's discoveries are also, almost always, counter to ordinary truths.

Creativity itself is a joyous unlatching. The act of creative imagining, inventing, saying differently, crafting a metaphor or image, then crafting another metaphor or image when you go further or when you revise - all these take whatever you think "is" and make clear that other possibilities exist as well. The sense of possibility, the amplitude and freedom that sense of malleability brings - for me, that cannot help but be joyous.

Gestation requires protected space; ripening requires both permeability to the outer ? and non-disturbance.

However strong his opinions and theories, Bash??s primary allegiance was to the living moment and its accurate, full-hearted presentation. Of the formal requirements of haiku, he said, If you have three or four, even five or seven extra syllables but the poem still sounds good, don?t worry about it. But if one syllable stops the tongue, look at it hard.

I require silence to write the way an apple tree requires winter to make fruit. Being with people is intimate and joyous, but at some point, I'll wander off by myself. The paradox is that what began in childhood as an act of necessary solitude has led me straight to a life with others, in which I fly to China or Lithuania or northern Minnesota to read my poems and talk with other people who love language made into a lathe on which a life can be tuned and be turned.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist