Jane Hirshfield Poetry

All by Jane Hirshfield, 2000 Featured Poet

The Poet

She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb’s
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not; she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair —
let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker. Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

The Song

The tree, cut down this morning,
is already chainsawed and quartered, stripped of its branches, transported and stacked.
Not an instant too early, its girl slipped away.
She is singing now, a small figure
glimpsed in the surface of the pond.
As the wood, if taken too quickly, will sing a little in the stove, still remembering her.

Three Foxes by the Edge of the Field at Twilight

One ran,
her nose to the ground,
a rusty shadow
neither hunting nor playing.

One stood; sat; lay down; stood again.

One never moved,
except to turn her head a little as we walked.

Finally we drew too close,
and they vanished.
The woods took them back as if they had never been.

I wish I had thought to put my face to the grass.

We kept on walking,
speaking as strangers do when becoming friends.

There is more and more I tell no one,
strangers nor loves.
This slips into the heart
without hurry, as if it had never been.

And yet, among the trees, something has changed.

Something looks back from the trees,
and knows me for who I am.


I woke and remembered
nothing of what I was dreaming.

The day grew light, then dark again —
In all its rich hours, what happened?

A few weeds pulled, a few cold flowers
carried inside for the vase.
A little reading. A little tidying and sweeping.

I had vowed to do nothing I did not wish to do that day, and kept my promise.

Once, a certain hope came close
and then departed. Passed by me in its familiar shawl, scented with iodine woodsmoke.

I did not speak to it, nor it to me.
Yet still the habit of warmth traveled
between us, like an apple shared by old friends.

One takes a bite, then the other.
They do this until it is gone.

The Love of Aged Horses

Because I know tomorrow
his faithful gelding heart will be broken when the spotted mare is trailered and driven away, I come today to take him for a gallop on Diaz Ridge.

Returning, he will whinny for his love.
Ancient, spavined,
her white parts red with hill-dust,
her red parts whitened with the same, she never answers.

But today, when I turn him loose at the hill-gate with the taste of chewed oat on his tongue and the saddle-sweat rinsed off with water, I know he will canter, however tired, whinnying wildly up the ridge’s near side, and I know he will find her.

He will be filled with the sureness of horses whose bellies are grain-filled, whose long-ribbed loneliness can be scratched into no-longer-lonely.

His long teeth on her withers,
her rough-coated spots will grow damp and wild.
Her long teeth on his withers,
his oiled-teakwood smoothness will grow damp and wild.
Their shadows’ chiasmus will fleck and fill with flies, the eight marks of their fortune stamp and then cancel the earth.
From ear-flick to tail-switch, they stand in one body.
No luck is as boundless as theirs.


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 persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs–all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Inflection Finally

Ungraspable by Grammer

I haven’t yet found the pronoun through which to touch it directly.
You may feel differently.
You may think you can simply reach through all the way
with your hand, like petting the shoulder of an old dog, who, when she can no longer stand, lies on her bed, watching her kingdom
arriving and leaving, arriving and leaving, until at last it only departs.
We want our lives and deaths to be like that–something formal, a kingdom.
Filled with the sense of the manyness of existence.
As the French say
“Vous” to that which cannot yet be made familiar.
They do this less and less these days, it seems.