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Home » Jane Hirshfield » Series: Jane Hirshfield’s Early Poetry: Of Gravity & Angels, Part I

Series: Jane Hirshfield’s Early Poetry: Of Gravity & Angels, Part I

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March 15, 2017

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As I said in an earlier post in this series, most of what I am posting comes from some papers I wrote and published many years ago. As I re-read Hirshfield today I probably would have different and more updated ideas about her work. And nearly everything I am including in this series does not have the hindsight that might would come after keeping up with Hirshfield’s later work. Especially, I would probably have a different perspective since her 2015 important Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, which is her most mature statement of her philosophy of poetry. Nevertheless, Of Gravity & Angels remains one of my favorite books of contemporary poetry.

Jane Hirshfield’s second book of poetry, published in 1988 continues to demonstrate he mastery of language yet nearly half of the poems in this volume include the pronoun “I.” For most of the poems, the self remains integral to the text.

At her public readings and in her interviews, the poet frequently talks of her love for horses and her use of horses in her poems. In “After Work,” we see a typical Hirshfield horse poem. The poem takes a straightforward description of an habitual moment in her life, the after work feeding of the horses, and transforms the experience into meaning:

I stop the car along the pasture edge,

gather up bags of corncobs from the back,

and get out.

Two whistles, one for each,

and familiar sounds draw close in darkness. . .

The horses come and eagerly devour corncobs brought by the speaker. But, despite the personal nature of this ordinary experience, Hirshfield objectifies it. The horses don’t “just” come. They come “conjured out of sleep”; they come with “each small noise and scent/heavy with earth, simple beyond communion.

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My next installment in this series will be March 16. Follow The Literary Life blog and share on your social media. Paul Varner

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