Poetry Friday: Jane Hirschfield

I finished Jane Hirschfield’s book of poems Given Sugar, Given Salt recently, and thought the book excellent. I’ve posted on a few of the poems here, here, and here. The poems are quiet and meditative and beautiful; they often contemplate objects and our relationship to them, as, for example, in this poem entitled “Ink,” which begins: “Like all liquids, / it is sister to chaos and time: / wanting always / to lose itself in another, / visible only when held in embrace.” As so often in a Hirschfield poem, the ink here is both something clearly other and foreign to human consciousness (“sister to chaos and time”) but also something that, like a human being might, wants to “lose itself in another.”

There is a quiet confidence in these poems, a sense of calmness and serenity. Reading them feels like a form of meditation. They slow you down; you might pick up the book expecting to breeze through a few pages, and you will find yourself re-reading and contemplating what you read, and looking up from the book to ponder, and before you know it, you are staring off into space, deep in thought or feeling. The poems do touch on drama and passion, but underlying those experiences is a deep stillness.

As I’ve noted before, Hirschfield is a Buddhist, and that sensibility pervades the book: the poems exhibit a calmness in the face of unceasing change and suffering. If I could read poems for consolation, I would turn to Hirschfield, who would remind me, I think, that everything changes, and that my troubles are small and fleeting.

Here’s one more poem, entitled “Optimism”:

More and more I have come to admire resilience.

Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam

returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous

tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,

it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.

But out of such persistance arose turtles, rivers,

mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

For my next poetry read, I plan to take up Jane Kenyon’s book Otherwise

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