Jane Hirshfield


Spell To Be Said Against Hatred

Until each breath refuses “they,” “those,” “them.”
Until the Dramatis Personae of the book's first page says “Each one is you.”
Until hope bows to its hopelessness only as one self bows to another.
Until cruelty bends to its work and sees suddenly “I.”
Until anger and insult know themselves burnable legs of a useless chair.
Until the unsurprised unbidden knees find themselves nonetheless bending.
Until fear bows to its object as a bird's shadow bows to its bird.
Until the ache of the solitude inside the hands, the ribs, the ankles.
Until the sound the mouse makes inside the mouth of the cat.
Until the inaudible acids bathing the coral.
Until what feels no one's weighing is no longer weightless.
Until what feels no one's earning is no longer taken.
Until grief, pity, confusion, laughter, longing see themselves mirrors.
Until by “we” we mean I, them, you, the muskrat, the tiger, the hunger.
Until by “I” we mean as a dog barks, sounding and vanishing and sounding and
              vanishing completely.
Until by “until” we mean I, we, you, them, the muskrat, the tiger, the hunger,
               the lonely barking of the dog before it is answered.


Today, Another Universe

The arborist has determined:
senescence         beetles       canker
quickened by drought
                                    but in any case
not prunable     not treatable     not to be propped.

And so.

The branch from which the sharp-shinned hawks and their mate-cries.

The trunk where the ant.

The red squirrels' eighty-foot playground.

The bark   cambium    pine-sap    cluster of needles.

The Japanese patterns       the ink-net.

The dapple on certain fish.

Today, for some, a universe will vanish.
First noisily,
then just another silence.

The silence of after, once the theater has emptied.

Of bewilderment after the glacier,
the species, the star.

Something else, in the scale of quickening things,
will replace it,
this hole of light in the light, the puzzled birds swerving around it.


All Souls

In Italy, on the day of the dead, 
they ring bells, 
from every church and village in every direction. 
At the usual time, the regular bells of the hour—
eleven strokes, twelve. Oar strokes
laid over and into the bottomless water and air.
But the others? Tuneless, keyless,
rhythm of wings at the door of the hive
when the entrance is suddenly shuttered
and the bees, returned heavy, see
that the world of flowering and pollen is over. 
There can be no instruction
to make this. Undimensioned
the tongues of the bells, 
the ropes of the bells, their big iron bodies unholy.
Barred from form, barred from bars,
from relation. The beauty—unspeakable—
was beauty. I drank it and thirsted,
I stopped. I ran. Wanted closer in every direction.
Each bell stroke released without memory
or judgment, unviolent, untender. Uncaring.
And yet: existent. Something trembling.
I—who have not known bombardment—
have never heard so a naked a claim
of the dead on the living, to know them.


How Rarely I Have Stopped to Thank the Steady Effort

A person speaking
pauses, lets in
a little silence-portion with the words. 
It is like an hour. 
Any hour. This one. 
Something happens, much does not.
Or as always, everything happens:
the standing walls keep
standing with their whole attention.
A noisy crow call lowers and lifts its branch,
the crow scent enters the leaves, enters the bark,
like stirred-in honey gone into the tea.
How rarely I have stopped to thank
the steady effort of the world to stay the world.
To thank the furnish of green
and abandon of yellow. The ancient Sumerians
called the beloved “Honey,” as we do.
Said also, “Borrowed bread is not returned.”
Like them, we pay love's tax to bees, 
we go on arranging the old notes in different orders. 
Desire inside A C A G G A T.
Forgiveness in G T A C T T.
In a world of space and time, arrangement matters.
An hour has no front or back, except to those whose eyes face forward,
whose tears blur thought and stars. 
Five genes, in a certain arrangement, 
will spend this life unrooted, grazing. 
It has to do with how the animal body comes into being,
the same whether ant or camel. 
What then does such unfolded code understand, 
if it finds in its mouth the word important-
the thing that can be carried, or the thing that cannot,
or the way they keep trading places,
grief and gladness, the comic, the glum, the dead, the living.
Last night, the big Sumerian moon
clambered into the house empty-handed
and left empty-handed, 
not thief, not lover, not tortoise, just looking around,
shuffling its soft, blind slippers over the floor. 
This felt, to me, important, and so I looked back with both hands
open, palms unblinking.
What caused the fire, we ask, meaning, lightning, wiring, matches.
How precisely and unbidden
oxygen slips itself into, between those thick words.


As a Hammer Speaks to a Nail

When all else fails, 
fail boldly,
fail with conviction, 
as a hammer speaks to a nail,
or a lamp left on in daylight. 

Say one.
If two does not follow, 
say three, if that fails, say life,
say future. 

Lacking future,
try bucket, 
lacking iron, try shadow.

If shadow too fails, 
if your voice falls and falls and keeps falling,
meets only air and silence, 

say one again,
but say it with greater conviction, 

as a nail speaks to a picture, 
as a hammer left on in daylight.



“Spell To Be Said Against Hatred” and “Today, Another Universe” are reprinted, with the poet’s permission, from www.terrain.org, A Journal of the Build + Natural Environments, November 2016.

“All Souls,” “How Rarely I Have Stopped to Thank the Steady Effort,” and “As a Hammer Speaks to a Nail” are reprinted, with the poet’s permission, from The Beauty, published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, New York, 2015.


Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, including, most recently, The Beauty (longlisted for the National Book Award ); Come, Thief; After (shortlisted for England's T.S. Eliot Prize and named a "best book of 2006" by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the London Financial Times); Given Sugar, Given Salt (finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award); The Lives of the Heart; and The October Palace, as well as two books of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf, 2015), which was awarded the Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, and the now-classic Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. She has also edited and co-translated four books containing the work of poets from the past: The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Komachi & Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Japanese Court; Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women; Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems; and The Heart of Haiku, on Matsuo Basho, named an Amazon Best Book of 2011. 

Hirshfield's other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets; Columbia University's Translation Center Award; and (both twice) The California Book Award and the Northern California Book Reviewers Award. In 2012, she was awarded the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry.

Hirshfield's work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, Harper's, The Nation, Orion, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, eight editions of The Best American Poetry, five Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and many other publications.  Her work has frequently appeared on public radio's "Writers Almanac" program and she has been featured in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials. In fall 2004, Jane Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets, an honor formerly held by such poets as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. In 2012, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


More on Jane Hirshfield's work can be found on our Links page.


Author photo: Nick Rosza