The New York Times
Come, Thiefby Jane Hirshfield
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,
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
against the screen
in August darkness.
Some spread large
as two hands
of a thief
who wants to put
back in your cupboard
the long-taken silver.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
“Vibrant . . . This celebrated American poet clearly savors the material world but does not shy away from seeing past it . . . In these clear-eyed and luminous poems, she has borrowed from the great Tang Dynasty masters and fused style and philosophical outlook into a fresh way of representing experience.”—The Washington Post
“Passionate yet controlled poems.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Hirshfield’s lucid poems are philosophical and sensuous, concise yet mysterious. Ruefully funny and irreverently reverent. They are also gloriously earthy as she looks deeply at trees, animals, insects, and our own wondrous if betraying bodies . . . Wittily deductive and metaphysically resplendent, Hirshfield’s supple and knowing poems reflect her long view, her quest for balance, and her exuberant participation in the circle dance of existence.” —Booklist
“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.” —Publishers Weekly
“In Come, Thief, poet Jane Hirshfield focuses on the lovely but overlooked things in everyday life: stones that are beautiful only when wet, maples setting down their red leaves, the rosy and gold and stippled pattern of her grandfather’s watch. Using clear, straightforward language, she finds the meaning in what could be—in less observant hands—the meaningless, often with a flash of unexpected humor.” —Oprah.com
“Significant is that the smallest thought can house the largest idea. The universe can be found in a drop of rain or a grain of sand, but we have to know what to look for and how to see. Then there is belief. These poems start with the belief that we have the capacity that the poet has, and it requires a kind of faith in the reader.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
“[Hirshfield] is a visionary. Rarely making spirituality and her own long Zen practice her overt subject, Hirshfield nonetheless makes poems which possess a subtle lucidity that is accessible and understated on the one hand, and suffused with a resonant “beyonding” of the self and the quotidian on the other. Her poems press the experiential . . . in order to transcend soma and solipsism.” —The Chronicle of Higher Education
“The best writers linger over every word, and each line break and segue from image to image; Hirshfield is clearly one of our most precise, careful poets. And Come, Thief , with its flawless construction, is the kind of book that can inhabit you, can even begin to color how you see the particulars of the world. These poems wear a kind of detached delight on their sleeves.” —Basalt Magazine
“Her seventh volume of poetry, Come, Thief, lures readers into a world rich with alchemical reflections and personal metaphoric revelations. Her verse explores the bitter sweetness of morality through breathtaking details found in the natural world and cradles the reader close with profound simplicity.” —Pacific Sun
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Read an Excerpt
For a few days only,
the plum tree outside the window
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"
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.
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—
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,
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.
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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