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Jane Hirshfield

1953–

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City on February 24, 1953. A poet, translator, essayist, and editor, she received her BA from Princeton University in its first graduating class to include women, and went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Her books of poetry include The Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), which was longlisted for the National Book Award, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her ninth collection, Ledger, is forthcoming from Knopf in March 2020. 

Hirshfield is also the author of Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997), and an an ebook on Basho, The Heart of Haiku (2011). She has also edited and cotranslated books with Mariko Aratani and Robert Bly

About her work, the poet Rosanna Warren has said:

Hirshfield has elaborated a sensuously philosophical art that imposes a pause in our fast-forward habits of mind. Her poems appear simple, and are not. Her language, in its cleanliness and transparency, poses riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature.... Clause by clause, image by image, in language at once mysterious and commonplace, Hirshfield's poems clear a space for reflection and change. They invite ethical awareness, and establish a delicate balance.

Poet Kay Ryan has praised Jane Hirshfield, saying:

She is that rare thing in contemporary American life, a true person of letters—an eloquent and exacting poet, first, but in addition the author of enduring essays and influential translations and anthologies. Now add to this a life on the hustings, bringing the good news about poetry to nearly every state of the union. Then further add her elegant ambassadorship for poetry in the greater world (think Japan, Poland, China) and you have something that satisfies the old sense of a person of letters—a writer who demonstrates in every possible way that this life matters.

Her honors include the Poetry Center Book Award, the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Literature, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award, Columbia University's Translation Center Award, and the Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Her work has been selected for seven editions of Best American Poetry and, in 2004, Hirshfield was awarded the seventieth Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. In 2019, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

In addition to her work as a freelance writer, editor, and translator, Hirshfield has taught Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley, in the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars, and at the University of San Francisco. She has been a visiting Poet-in-Residence at Duke University, the University of Alaska, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere, and has been the Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2012 to 2017 and will be the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in December 2020. Hirshfield lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Ledger: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020)
The Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)
Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
After (HarperCollins, 2006)
Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001)
The Lives of the Heart (HarperCollins, 1997),
The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994)
Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988)
Alaya (Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Series, 1982)

Essays
Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997)

Anthology:
Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (HarperCollins, 1994)

Translations:
Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (with Robert Bly)  (Beacon Press, 2004)
The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Japanese Court (with Mariko Aratani) (Vintage Classics, 1990)
 

By This Poet

40

Late Self-Portrait by Rembrandt

The dog, dead for years, keeps coming back in the dream.
We look at each other there with the old joy.
It was always her gift to bring me into the present—

Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.

Happiness and unhappiness
differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one of pressed tin,
this painting proposes.

Each carries the same water, it says.

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don't know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

The Bell Zygmunt

For fertility, a new bride is lifted to touch it with her left hand,
or possibly kiss it.
The sound close in, my friend told me later, is almost silent.

At ten kilometers, even those who have never heard it know what it is.

If you stand near during thunder, she said,
you will hear a reply.

Six weeks and six days from the phone’s small ringing,
replying was over.

She who cooked lamb and loved wine and wild mushroom pastas.
She who when I saw her last was silent as the great Zygmunt mostly is,
a ventilator’s clapper between her dry lips.

Because I could, I spoke. She laid her palm on my cheek to answer.
And soon again, to say it was time to leave.

I put my lips near the place a tube went into
the back of one hand.
The kiss—as if it knew what I did not yet—both full and formal.

As one would kiss the ring of a cardinal, or the rim
of that cold iron bell, whose speech can mean “Great joy,”
or—equally—“The city is burning. Come.”