Feature > Poetry
Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield's eighth poetry book, The Beauty, appears from Knopf in March 2015, along with a new book of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, also from Knopf. Previous books include most recently Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011) and After (HarperCollins, 2006), named a best book of the year by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Financial Times (UK). She has also written a now-classic collection of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997), and edited and co-translated four books collecting the work of world poets of the past. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


Music comes with instructions:
pianissimo, forte.

In Nô plays the actors wear masks,
so their souls can be seen:
wild haired old woman, callow young priest.

Each morning I wake in strange country,
my bed made of strange wood.
Time arrives clockless.
Rain poses hieroglyphic, with bent knees,
shoulders askew, arms lifting
from out of the future
the future—

a box labeled neither
"Requests" nor "Suggestions."

What is, what will be,
is honey.
Touched, it sticks to the fingers.

Andromeda overhead, silent.

Below, ears, eyes,
an aching elbow,
Chekhov, the laboring bees.

I Profess The Uncertain

I profess the uncertain
with gratitude

a man with large hands
and large feet
first looks at a pencil
then brings it close to his ear

he listens

the day lives briefly

shaken with worn-heel glimpses

becomes a shambling palace
with walking fishes
a yellow-roofed kindness

the almost untenable premise
that between counting one and two
nothing is lost

They Have Decided

Comes a time they have decided who you are.
But you have not decided who you are.

Your wrists have decided.
Your knees have decided.
The hair that will leave its color behind has decided.

Your ears, your rebelling ears,
have decided: enough.
They surrender cacophony, beauty, names, whistlings, cries.

Your thoughts, it seemed once, had decided.

But you, you yourself, had not yet decided.

Like a foal still trying to find which leg goes where for standing,
you have not decided.


Under every footstep,
burning magma.

Under every sentence:
we are alive.

Under that:
someday we won't be.

Try it—
"A bio-engineered lacrimal gland is successfully shedding tears,
and we are alive."

"Soldiers in Afghanistan held funerals for their disabled battlefield robots
and someday we won't be."

Each moment, handshake, glance, inside itself murmurs:
I love you, and we are alive,
I love you, and someday we won't be.

But equally:
Love is no longer, and someday this knife-edge will dull.

Opinion, hope, regret, an untempered piano—
the farther you go from the middle, the stranger they sound.

Under every footstep,
burning magma.

A Handle-less Door

in certain early frescoes one figure
in the crowd
is always pointing back

this, we are told,
that the viewer will not remain tempted
to look away from the central scene

suffering and distraction
distraction and suffering

as a woman slow in her dying watches TV

how tenderly the donkey's ear      
the little sitting dog
are rendered


Thomas Lux

Thomas Lux
Double Barrel Sparrow


Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky
Radio Man


Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn