Edward Hirsch's strong, arresting poems have been praised from the start of his career. Of his second book, Wild Gratitude, Robert Penn Warren said, "I am convinced that the best poems here are unsurpassed in our time". This, his fourth collection, contains his finest work. From gritty, apocalyptic views of the urban Midwest to brilliantly empathetic portrayals of Simone Weil and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the range of poems is at once wide and subtle. "In the Midwest" speaks of the nightmare of abandon and decay; ...
Edward Hirsch's strong, arresting poems have been praised from the start of his career. Of his second book, Wild Gratitude, Robert Penn Warren said, "I am convinced that the best poems here are unsurpassed in our time". This, his fourth collection, contains his finest work. From gritty, apocalyptic views of the urban Midwest to brilliantly empathetic portrayals of Simone Weil and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the range of poems is at once wide and subtle. "In the Midwest" speaks of the nightmare of abandon and decay; "From a Train (Hofmannsthal in Greece)" is the poet's compelling view of a timeless landscape; "The Italian Muse" is a meditation on Henry James in Rome; "Luminist Paintings at the National Gallery" beautifully evokes the sense of nineteenth-century American countryside. There is an argument about transcendence in these poems, an evocation of American spaces and European landscapes, a quest for reconciliation to the earth as it is. Hirsch's work, as Anthony Hecht has said, "has not only the courage of its strong emotions, but the language and form that makes and keeps them clear and true".
The measures of Hirsch's ( The Night Parade ) fourth book of poetry are anything but earthly. These poems court the extremes of experience from transcendence to acedia: the moment of death, spiritual crisis, intense nostalgia. The lofty reach of the poems derives in part from the poet's chosen subjects; many of them portray, in verse narrative, episodes from the lives of Simone Weil, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Leopardi and Henry James. He generally brings great insight and sympathy to the writers and thinkers he imagines. However, one can find ``something strained / and oracular in these incandescent vistas / and glowing atmospherics.'' At times, the tone plunges from high drama to melodrama, or to farce, as in his villanelle, ``The Romance of American Communism.'' Elsewhere, Hirsch renders intimate moments with affecting emotional precision: ``As we stood by the window in a waning light / Or touched and moved away from each other / And turned back to our books. But it remained / Even so, like the thought of a coal fading / On the upper left-hand side of our chests, / A destination that we bore within ourselves.'' The poet rarely stays at home. His poems inhabit a distinctly poetic landscape of old European churches, burnt-out midwestern cities and slumberous suburban tracts. Though, like an expressionist painter, Hirsch has a weakness for the rarefied and poetic moment, we should be grateful for his often profound identification with human dilemmas. (Feb.)
These intimate and sensuous poems move from a rejection of the city, with its ``skulls of buildings,'' ``discarded carcasses of Fords and Chevys,'' and smog like ``crumbled bits of charcoal/ in the air,'' to a profoundly spiritual quest for the absolute. There is a deep hunger for divinity here, for a god the poet ``had wanted/ so long and so much to believe in.'' The best poems in this magnificent collection pay homage to those writers and artists who have come closest to the divine: Paul Celan, Simone Weil, St. Francis, Caravaggio, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Henry James, and Wallace Stevens. Hirsch admires these artists because they all appreciated the ``bountiful emptiness of everything,'' a bounty the poet finds in the birth of his son, the jazz solos of Art Pepper, Dutch still-life paintings, and memories of the first snowfall, epiphanies when he truly lived ``in the fullness of the moment''--as will the reader of Earthly Measures . Highly recommended.-- Daniel L. Guillory, Millikin Univ., Decatur, Ill.
Hirsch's experience of place is both sensual and archaeological. He soaks up the colors of the sky and the sequence of light and shadows the sun draws upon the earth each day and translates them into language that has palpable mass and motion. He also "feels the centuries welling up beneath him" as he gazes at landscapes, city streets, and sacred places. Here, in his fourth volume of poetry, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Hirsch contemplates manifestations of the divine. He muses on Orpheus in a modern context, considers the meaningful lives of Simone Weil, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Wallace Stevens, and marvels at the unassailableness of epiphanies. He also considers the relationship between instances of spiritual revelation and the concrete everyday world with its elaborate ironies and endless brutality. How did hardship and beauty, elation and sadness become dance partners? As Hirsch mourns the dead, broods over the rust and rot of the rundown cities of the Midwest, and meditates upon paintings by Caravaggio and the seventeenth-century Dutch Masters, he takes earthly measure of unearthly forces. He uses the measure of poetry to name the unknowable and comprehend the unfathomable, but, ultimately, he decides that it is the earth that "needs" our full attention and prayers "because / it is only earth--limited, sensuous / earth that is so fleeting, so real."