Come, Thief

Come, Thief

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by Jane Hirshfield

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A revelatory, indispensable collection of poems from Jane Hirshfield that centers on beauty, time, and the full embrace of an existence that time cannot help but steal from our arms.

Hirshfield is unsurpassed in her ability to sink into a moment’s essence and exchange something of herself with its finite music—and then, in seemingly simple,

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A revelatory, indispensable collection of poems from Jane Hirshfield that centers on beauty, time, and the full embrace of an existence that time cannot help but steal from our arms.

Hirshfield is unsurpassed in her ability to sink into a moment’s essence and exchange something of herself with its finite music—and then, in seemingly simple, inevitable words, to deliver that exchange to us in poems that vibrate with form and expression perfectly united. Hirshfield’s poems of discovery, acknowledgment of the difficult, and praise turn always toward deepening comprehension. Here we encounter the stealth of feeling’s arrival (“as some strings, untouched, / sound when a near one is speaking. / So it was when love slipped inside us”), an anatomy of solitude (“wrong solitude vinegars the soul, / right solitude oils it”), a reflection on perishability and the sweetness its acceptance invites into our midst (“How suddenly then / the strange happiness took me, / like a man with strong hands and strong mouth”), and a muscular, unblindfolded awareness of our shared political and planetary fate.

To read these startlingly true poems is to find our own feelings eloquently ensnared. Whether delving into intimately familiar moments or bringing forward some experience until now outside words, Hirshfield finds for each face of our lives its metamorphosing portrait, its particular, memorable, singing and singular name.

Love in August

White moths against the screen in August darkness.

Some clamor in envy.

Some spread large as two hands of a thief

who wants to put back in your cupboard the long-taken silver.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Buddhism and aphorism, outdoor delights and indoor wisdom have all attracted readers to Hirshfield's spare and approachable lines; the poet navigates securely between praise and advice, mostly in clearly quotable form. "Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,/ right solitude oils it." "How happy we are,/ how unhappy we are, doesn't matter./ The stone turtle listens. The famished horse runs." Allegorical scenes like bare stage sets introduce elegant observations in conversational free verse, in words drawn from common American speech: sometimes the results sting, sometimes they end up sweet, and sometimes they end up too sweet, faux-profound ("Hearts stop in more ways than one"). More often, though, Hirshfield (Nine Gates) can speak to many lives in just a few phrases, mixing in ancient fashion the fires of consolation with the lights of warning, as in her three-line poem "Sonoma Fire," which ends on "The griefs of others—beautiful at a distance." Admirers of Mary Oliver, of the early works of Louise Glück, and even of Kay Ryan might find more pages to cherish. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Early in her career, National Book Critics Award finalist Hirshfield (Given Sugar, Given Salt) became interested in Japanese literature. One can see this influence in her latest work, a collection of generally short nature poems with an epiphany in which the poet manages to get to the heart of an experience. The best of the poems examine the complex and often metaphysical relationships between the poet and her surroundings. In Zenlike tones, they notice telling details as experienced in ordinary moments that nevertheless seem connected to the transcendent. Take "The Supple Deer," for instance: the narrator watches deer gracefully jumping through an opening in the fence, noting in an especially resonate metaphor how the deer seem to pour like an arc of water. The poem ends wistfully as the poet wishes to be as "porous" as the deer, allowing the world to pass through her. VERDICT Although sometimes the connections suggested by Hirshfield's metaphors are tenuous, these are mostly powerful poems in which each word adds resonance.—Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD
Dana Jennings
Come, Thief is a book of silences…But it's a mistake to take the book's quiet for reticence, because Thief…is a deep well full of strength and wisdom.
—The New York Times
Steven Ratiner
…Hirshfield's verse involves a deepening attention to every aspect of human experience, from the dailiness of our lives to the most ineffable moments. In these clear-eyed and often luminous poems, she has borrowed a page from the great Tang Dynasty masters…and fused style and philosophical outlook into a fresh way of representing experience.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Come, Thief

By Jane Hirshfield


Copyright © 2011 Jane Hirshfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307595423

"French Horn"

For a few days only,
the plum tree outside the window
shoulders perfection.
No matter the plums will be small,
eaten only by squirrels and jays.
I feast on the one thing, they on another,
the shoaling bees on a third.
What in this unpleated world isn’t someone’s seduction?
The boy playing his intricate horn in Mahler’s Fifth,
in the gaps between playing,
turns it and turns it, dismantles a section,
shakes from it the condensation
of human passage. He is perhaps twenty.
Later he takes his four bows, his face deepening red,
while a girl holds a viola’s spruce wood and maple
in one -half--opened hand and looks at him hard.
Let others clap.
These two, their ears still ringing, hear nothing.
Not the shouts of bravo, bravo,
not the timpanic clamor inside their bodies.
As the plum’s blossoms do not hear the bee
nor taste themselves turned into storable honey
by that sumptuous disturbance.

"First Light Edging Cirrus"

1025 molecules
are enough
to call wood thrush or apple.

A hummingbird, fewer.
A wristwatch: 1024.

An alphabet’s molecules,
tasting of honey, iron, and salt,
cannot be counted—

as some strings, untouched,
sound when a near one is speaking.

So it was when love slipped inside us.
It looked out face to face in every direction.

Then it was inside the tree, the rock, the cloud.

"The Decision"

There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of kiln.
The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying -drum--skin of the room’s air.
The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it—
looks around,
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.
Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy -track--rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.

"Vinegar and Oil"

Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,
right solitude oils it.

How fragile we are, between the few good moments.

Coming and going unfinished,
puzzled by fate,

like the -half--carved relief
of a fallen donkey, above a church door in Finland.

"The Tongue Says Loneliness"

The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.

As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
nor Thursday
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.

As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.

Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the -bell--shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.


Excerpted from Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield Copyright © 2011 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Jane Hirshfield is the author of six previous collections of poetry, a now-classic book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, and three books collecting the work of women poets from the past. Her awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Endowment for the Arts; three Pushcart Prizes; the California Book Award; The Poetry Center Book Award; and other honors. Her poems appear regularly in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Poetry and have been included in six editions of The Best American Poetry. Her collection Given Sugar, Given Salt was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and After was named a “Best Book of 2006” by The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the United Kingdom’s Financial Times. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Come, Thief 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago