Jane Hirshfield


American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist

Author Quotes

At some point I realized that you don't get a full human life if you try to cut off one end of it, that you need to agree to the entire experience, to the full spectrum of what happens.

Do not follow the ancient masters, seek what they sought. 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.

Great sweeps of thought, emotion, and perception are compressed to forms the mind is able to hold ? into images, sentences, and stories that serve as entrance tokens to large and often slippery realms of being? Words hold fast in the mind, seeded with the surplus of beauty and meaning that is concentration?s mark.

I cast my hook, my vote against it, I decide to make peace. I declare this intention but nothing answers. And so I put peace in a warm place, towel-covered, to proof, then into an oven. I wait. Peace is patient and undemanding, it surpasseth.

I thought I would love you forever?and, a little, I may, in the way I still move toward a crate, knees bent, or reach for a man: as one might stretch for the three or four fruit that lie in the sun at the top of the tree; too ripe for any moment but this, they open their skin at first touch, yielding sweetness, sweetness and heat, and in me, each time since, the answering yes.

A scrap of sorrow, like a bird, lights on the heart. I carry this in my body, seed in an unswept corner, husk-encowled and seeming safe. But they guard me, these small pains, from growing sure of myself and perhaps forgetting.

At some unnoticed moment, I began to understand that a life is written in indelible ink. What I've chosen, what's happened unchosen, can't be unmade or redone. Poetry, though, is a door that only continues to open. Even the unchangeable past changes inside a poem. Not the facts, but the feeling, the comprehension.

Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World: If the gods bring to you a strange and frightening creature, accept the gift as if it were one you had chosen. Say the accustomed prayers, oil the hooves well, caress the small ears with praise. Have the new halter of woven silver embedded with jewels. Spare no expense, pay what is asked, when a gift arrives from the sea. Treat it as you yourself would be treated, brought speechless and naked into the court of a king. And when the request finally comes, do not hesitate even an instant---- stroke the white throat, the heavy trembling dewlaps you'd come to believe were yours, and plunge in the knife. Not once did you enter the pasture without pause, without yourself trembling, that you came to love it, that was the gift. Let the envious gods take back what they can.

Habit, laziness, and fear conspire to keep us comfortably within the familiar.

I don?t have a fantasy alternative life, no desire to slip into some phone booth and emerge in another costume of the self. If I did, though, it would be a rather greedy fantasy, less of place than of a world with the possibility of eight or nine selves, each leading fully its own life of reading, writing, gardening, hiking a mountain or desert, pure contemplation, long conversation, long dancing, long passion, long silence. One of these lives must be spent entirely in love, another in friendship. One might do what is sometimes called ?honest labor??build something useful, feed others. And then why not ask for a few spare selves with which to learn something new, to do something wildly unexpected?

A studio, like a poem, is an intimacy and a freedom you can look out from, into each part of your life and a little beyond.

Awareness and self-consciousness are delicate matters. Trying to examine more deeply what poems are and how they work has informed my life and brought me great joy. I don't think that attentiveness ever diminishes experience. There are times, however, when you don't want to be self-conscious. One is while writing the first draft of a new poem. At that stage too much consciousness is limiting and therefore damaging. It can wall off the permeable, the mysterious, everything you don't already know. When I write, I don't know what is going to emerge. I begin in a condition of complete unknowing, an utter nakedness of concept or goal. A word appears, another word appears, an image. It is a moving into mystery. Everything I am and know and have lived goes into a poem. I hope I'll never be governed by theoretical knowledge when I set out to write. Poems are born in part from the history and culture of other poems, but in writing I hope to learn a new thing, something fresh about what's going on in that moment, in my own life and in the world. Craft consciousness is essential to the finished poem, but comes later.

Each poet probably has his or her own cupboard of magnets. For some, it is cars; for others, works of art, or certain patterns of form or sound; for others, certain stories or places, Philip Levine's Detroit, Gwendolyn Brooks's Chicago, Seamus Heaney's time-tunneled, familied Ireland.

Happiness and unhappiness differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one pressed in tin... Each carries the same water.

I don't have a cell phone (though for years I've kept saying, "soon").

A tree lives on its roots. If you change the root, you change the tree. Culture lives in human beings. If you change the human heart the culture will follow.

Bash? wrote, The moon and sun are travelers of a hundred generations. The years, coming and going, are wanderers too. Spending a lifetime adrift on boat decks, greeting old age while holding a horse by the mouth?for such a person, each day is a journey, and the journey itself becomes home.

Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections ? language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows more perhaps even than we do about who are, what we are. It begins, that is, in the mind and body of concentration. By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open. This quality of consciousness, though not easily put into words, is instantly recognizable. Aldous Huxley described it as the moment the doors or perception open; James Joyce called in epiphany. The experience of concentration may be quietly physical?a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, a mind thought ?too deep for tears.? Within action, it is felt as a grace state: time slows and extends, and a person?s every movement and decision seem to partake of perfection. Concentration can also be place into things ? it radiates undimmed from Vermeer?s paintings, form the small marble figure of a lyre-player from ancient Greece, from a Chinese three-footed bowl ? and into musical notes, words, ideas. In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.

Here are poems from a new generation of writers who honor the magnetic fields of the real; who feel and think with full and open-eyed passion; who focus heat as the magnifying glass focuses sun: until the paper catches. Read them.

I don't think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn't just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.

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.

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American Poet, Essayist and Translator, Zen Buddhist