Dear Jane Hirshfield,

Hello. My name is Rachel. I am a freshman, and in my English class, we are currently learning about poetry. For the Dear Poet project, I recently read your poem, “It Was Like This: You Were Happy.” First, I would to comment on how you read this poem. It was read with such meaning, emotion, and thoughtfulness that added depth to the poem. I also appreciate how you seemed calm when you read it. Nothing was over the top, just like how this poem is written. I frequently see poets reading their pieces, and it sounds very different from what I had imagined. Your poem; however, was different. As I read this in my head, it was monotone, yet it still provided enough emotion to be able to comprehend what this poem is about.

In addition to how the poem is read, I really enjoy the use of contrasting words throughout this poem. Using the words, “happy,” and, “sad,” along with, “innocent,” or, “guilty,” provokes my mind and makes me think about how the character is simple. It sounds like his/her life is very one dimensional, and they either do one thing, or another. Also, when you wrote, “It does this not in forgiveness,” makes me think that the character has done something wrong. Possibly this is why the character is sad.

Third, I did some research and found out that you practice Buddhism. I believe that this relates to the poem. A large idea in Buddhism is impermanence. Perhaps this could be interpreted as when you die, your sin, or regrets disappear. Or, it could be making you think about what actually stays with you, after you die. In addition, in the 8th stanza, it seems like it is saying that people will make up stories about you, good or bad, after you die. You have to know that they are wrong, and that they are making them up themselves. Although other people will not be aware of this, you will.

I also love how imagery is carefully scattered throughout this poem. I could imagine the baker mentioned, seeing bread transform. In addition, I picture an image in my mind of a life bending down, and kissing you, and taking you away. I can also imagine the person described in this poem, who is happy, then sad.

Two other poetic devices that I loved in this poem is assonance, and how it was a mix of lyrical poetry and narrative poetry. For assonance, I like how you repeated the title of the poem, twice in the poem. I also like the slight alteration from the beginning to the end. In the beginning it said, “It was like this,” but at the end it said, “Your story was this,” which makes me think about what defines you. Will a few words define you, after you are gone? I also like how this poem is a mix of lyrical poetry, because of the emotion involved; however, it is also narrative because it tells a story, in my mind.

A few questions that I have for you are why you chose to use the comparison of chestnuts and persimmons at the end of the poem. Also, what lead you to write this poem, a personal experience, etc.? Lastly, I would like to know if this poem relates to your religion at all?


Grade 9
Newtown, PA

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