Lay Back the Darkness

Lay Back the Darkness

by Edward Hirsch
     
 

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Edward Hirsch’s sixth collection is a descent into the darkness of middle age, narrated with exacting tenderness. He explores the boundaries of human fallibility both in candid personal poems, such as the title piece—a plea for his father, a victim of Alzheimer’s wandering the hallway at night—and in his passionate encounters with classic

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Overview

Edward Hirsch’s sixth collection is a descent into the darkness of middle age, narrated with exacting tenderness. He explores the boundaries of human fallibility both in candid personal poems, such as the title piece—a plea for his father, a victim of Alzheimer’s wandering the hallway at night—and in his passionate encounters with classic poetic texts, as when Dante’s Inferno enters his bedroom:

When you read Canto Five aloud last night in your naked, singsong, fractured Italian,
my sweet compulsion, my carnal appetite,
I suspected we shall never be forgiven for devouring each other body and soul . . .

From the lighting of a Yahrzeit candle to the drawings by the children of Terezin, Hirsch longs for transcendence in art and in the troubled history of his faith. In “The Hades Sonnets,” the ravishing series that crowns the collection, the poet awakens full of grief in his wife’s arms, but here as throughout, there is a luminous forgiveness in his examination of our sorrows. Taken together, these poems offer a profound engagement with our need to capture what is passing (and past) in the incandescence of language.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Edward Hirsch's sixth collection of poetry is admirable in purpose and intention, the forthright epic of an honest man's mission to absorb and comprehend his life, the work of a good and faithful citizen. It earnestly re-enacts the journey of Orpheus, who sought his lost love, a love too fragile for earth, in the cold darkness beneath the skin of reality. — Peter Davison
The Los Angeles Times
It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante and Milton into the abyss. Hirsch's ambitions, though, aren't epic. Hirsch enters myth in order to fathom something of himself and his chosen path — and perhaps to calculate its toll. — Dana Goodyear
Publishers Weekly
The author of five previous collections (including the 1986 NBCC Award-winning Wild Gratitude) and three books of prose in the last five years (How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry among them), Hirsch was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant, and was recently named president of the Guggenheim Foundation. (He was quoted as being "wildly energized" by the prospect.) This sixth collection should raise his reputation to Pinsky-like proportions. But although the two poets tackle many of the same themes (the Bible; classical literature; the Holocaust and its aftermath), Hirsch's poetic personae are much more straightforward. "The Desire Manuscripts," in seven parts, gives voice to books of The Inferno (in terza rima) and The Odyssey: "I have been many things in this life-/ husband, a warrior, a seer-but I cannot forget/ what the goddess can do to me, if she desires." The serial "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944" works from a real set of found drawings from the Terezin concentration camp: "when the locks were unfastened/ the drawings spilled over/ like a waterfall/ and everyone was drenched." A third, longer work is the 10-part "Under a Wild Green Fig Tree: The Hades Sonnets, " which offers three poems in the voice of Eurydice, and an Orphic "Voyage": "I was sentenced to the punishment/ field along with other tormented spirits/ where I vowed to remember the ghostly/ and baleful blue undersongs of Hades/ and return with them to the waking world." In these and the shorter poems that fill out the collection, Hirsch puts his vaunted formal skills to careful use, creating characters readers will recognize immediately. (Mar. 20) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his sixth collection, the much-lauded Hirsch (On Love) employs an academic's erudition and uncomplicated, measured language to skirt (just barely) the pitfalls of sentimentality and melodrama-no small task for a poet of his late-Romantic sensibilities. Sandwiched between two series of classically themed lyrics-the first on Orpheus, the second on Hades-are first-person meditations on life, death, faith, and family, as well as a long poem dedicated to the memory of the 15,000 children who were imprisoned in the Nazi camp at Terezin (Theresienstadt). While some pieces are diminished by the poet's insistence on self-consciously interposing himself between the poem and the reader ("I am so small walking on the beach"; "I am walking under the palm trees in Miami") and by a surplus of weak or cliched modifiers ("boiling surf," "fresh new recruits," "the simple truth"), the sequence "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944" is riveting in its terse, sharply evocative catalog of images, both disturbing ("A paper cut-out with brown paint/ of a man hanging") and moving ("She painted herself dark blue/ when she felt like a cello")-a poem of singular power in an otherwise low-key collection.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375710025
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/14/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
88
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.35(h) x 0.38(d)

Read an Excerpt

I Am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

Meet the Author

Edward Hirsch has published five previous books of poems: For the Sleepwalkers (1981), Wild Gratitude (1986), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), and On Love (1998). He has also written three prose books, including How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), a national best-seller, and The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (2002). A frequent contributor to leading magazines and periodicals, including The New Yorker, DoubleTake, and American Poetry Review, he also writes the Poet’s Choice column for the Washington Post Book World. He has received the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and a MacArthur Fellowship. A professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston for seventeen years, he is now President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

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