On Love

On Love

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by Edward Hirsch

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"Life has to have the plenitude of art," Edward Hirsch affirms in his fifth volume of poems, On Love, which further establishes him as a major artist. From its opening epigraph by Thomas Hardy and an initiating prayer for transformation, On Love takes up the subjects of separateness and fusion, autonomy and blur. The initial progression of fifteen…  See more details below


"Life has to have the plenitude of art," Edward Hirsch affirms in his fifth volume of poems, On Love, which further establishes him as a major artist. From its opening epigraph by Thomas Hardy and an initiating prayer for transformation, On Love takes up the subjects of separateness and fusion, autonomy and blur. The initial progression of fifteen shapely and passionate lyrics (including a sonnet about the poet at seven, a villanelle about the loneliness of a pioneer woman on the prairie, and an elegy for Amy Clampitt) opens out into a sequence of meditations about love. These arresting love poems are spoken by a gallery of historical figures from Denis Diderot, Heinrich Heine, Charles Baudelaire, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Gertrude Stein, Federico Garcia Lorca, Zora Neale Hurston, and Colette. Each anatomizes a different aspect of eros in poems uttered by a chorus of historical authorities that is also a lone lover's yearning voice. Personal, literary, On Love offers the most formally adept and moving poetry by the author Harold Bloom hails as utterly fresh, canonical, and necessary.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

James Pollock
The celebrated poet Edward Hirsch has written an ambitious new book of poems, and one certain to arouse controversy. . . . Readers who prize sincerity in poetry may be outraged, but for the open-minded these poems can be both moving and deliciously witty. . . For such readers On Love is highly recommended. -- Biblio Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hirsch writes a controlled, precise, formally ambitious verse reminiscent of the new critical concoctions of a young Richard Wilbur or Anthony Hecht. Reading this fifth collection (which follows 1994's Earthly Measures), one is always aware of a formidable intelligence, wide reading, and an ambition to connect the poet's own achievement with the great poetry of the past. The defects of Hirsch's style, however, are brought out equally clearly by his decision to focus nearly every poem on the title theme, a subject that demands at least as much passion as craft. The poems in the first section of the book are personal, their main themes being the poet's childhood, his Jewishness, and his marriage. Here Hirsch sees love as a longing for transcendence: "Touching your body/ I was like a rabbi poring/ over a treatise on ecstasy, the message hidden in the scrolls." In the second half, a sequence that provides the book's title, Hirsch is impersonal: each poem addresses the subject of love in the voice of a famous writerStein, Lawrence and Wilde, among others. It is a highly artificial premise, made more so by the incredibly strict forms: the poems are mainly modified sestinas, in which words are often rhymed with themselves (often to the detriment of both sense and rhythm). Unfortunately, these poems are too much pastiche and puppet show; Hirsch doesn't inhabit his speakers so much as employ the most basic clichs about them. Thus in "Bertolt Brecht," we encounter the phrases "free love," "Karl Marx," and "means of production"; in "Denis Diderot," we find "Rational Will," "encyclopedia," and "enlightening." Hirsch's conceit is an interesting one, familiar from his other books (including the NBCC Award-winning Wild Gratitude), but here it fails to get beyond the level of mere device. (June)
Library Journal
This is Hirsch's fifth published volume of poetry, which follows an impressive series of grants and awards: the Lavan Younger Poets Award, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. On Love lives up to Hirsch's growing reputation as a major American poet. Actually, this book is a dual enterprise. The untitled first section contains a number of moving personal revelations not necessarily touching on love, such as "Blue Hydrangea" (a blossom serving as a metaphor for recovery) or "Hotel Window" (taxi cabs on an urban street serving as an allegory of death), but the second section, "On Love" proper, is a series of "love poems" rendered through a variety of personas: Diderot, Heine, Baudelaire, Meredith Brecht, and others. The effects are often stunning in their complex evocations of the adopted voices as well as Hirsch's own insight. For all poetry collections.--Thomas F. Merrill, emeritus, Univ. of Delaware, Newark
Kirkus Reviews
The fifth book by this Univ. of Houston professor still finds him groping for subject and style and, in this case, coming up with easy forms to match an equally facile, schoolboyish scheme: to imagine what 20 or so writers from the past have to say about love. Hirsch has indulged such sentimentality in previous volumes, and here the scholarly patina barely disguises the comic- book sense of literary history in which artists are reduced to a series of textbook clich‚s: Diderot mentions reason, enlightenment, and encyclopedias; Heine refers to himself as a 'cripple' and 'a formidable intellect' of his time; Baudelaire links pain to pleasure; Wilde identifies himself as a 'strolling peacock;' and Brecht provides a Marxist gloss on romance. In one of the few poems that sounds a bit like its author (Gertrude Stein), Hirsch has her sum up improbably: 'all of us are astonished by love.' In poems not from this workshop-like sequence, Hirsch pays homage to all the right poets'Dickinson, Hart Crane, Whitman'but there's not the slightest anxiety from these influences, nor is there any depth to his equation of sex and religion. His pop gnosticism leaves him touched by angels, but not by the demands of craft: monotonous forms, which rely on repeated lines or end-words, drone on. Hirsch's true muse, unstated, seems to be McCartney and Lennon, who told us with much less to-do: 'all you need is love.'

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


My mother used to say, "Sit down, dear,
and don't cry. The worst thing for a woman
is her first man--the one who kills you.
After that, marriage becomes a long career."
Poor Sido! She never had another career
and she knew first-hand how love ruins you.
The seducer doesn't care about his woman,
even as he whispers endearments in her ear.

Never let anyone destroy your inner spirit.
Among all the forms of truly absurd courage
the recklessness of young girls is outstanding.
Otherwise there would be far fewer marriages
and even fewer affairs that overwhelm marriages.
Look at me: it's amazing I'm still standing
after what I went through with ridiculous courage.
I was made to suffer, but no one broke my spirit.

Every woman wants her adventure to be a feast
of ripening cherries and peaches, Marseilles figs,
hot-house grapes, champagne shuddering in crystal.
Happiness, we believe, is on sumptuous display.
But unhappiness writes a different kind of play.
The gypsy gazes down into a clear blue crystal
and sees rotten cherries and withered figs.
Trust me: loneliness, too, can be a feast.

Ardor is delicious, but keep your own room.
One of my husbands said: is it impossible
for you to write a book that isn't about love,
adultery, semi-incestuous relations, separation?
(Of course, this was before our own separation.)
He never understood the natural law of love,
the arc from the possible to the impossible...
I have extolled the tragedy of the bedroom.

We need exact descriptions of the first passion,
so pay attention to whatever happens to you.
Observe everything: love is greedy and forgetful.
By all means fling yourself wildly into life
(though sometimes you will be flung back by life)
but don't let experience make you forgetful
and be surprised by everything that happens to you.
We are creative creatures fuelled by passion.

One final thought about the nature of love.
Freedom should be the first condition of love
and work is liberating (a novel about love
cannot be written while you are making love
Never underestimate the mysteries of love,
the eminent dignity of not talking about love.
Passionate attention is prayer, prayer is love.
Savor the world. Consume the feast with love.

"Two (Scholarly) Love Poems"

I    Dead Sea Scrolls

I was like the words
              on a papyrus apocryphon
                           buried in a cave at Qumran,

and you were the scholar
              I had been waiting for
                           all my life, the one reader

who unravelled the scrolls
             and understood the language
                           and deciphered its mysteries.

2     A Treatise on Ecstasy

Touching your body
        I was like a rabbi pouring
                  over a treatise on ecstasy,
                            the message hidden in the scrolls.

I remember our delirium
        as my fingers moved backwards
                  across the page, letter by letter,
                            word by word, sentence by sentence.

I was a devoted scholar
         patiently tracing the secret
                  passages of a mysterious text.
                             Our room became a holy place

as my hands trembled
          and my voice shook
                 when I recited the blessings
                             of a book that burst into flames.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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On Love 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once in your lifetime You meet someone who touches your soul You set forth on unconditional love You lose youself, and all control Scored and insecure Still you saw something in me You brought me to life A person no one ever got to see You made it seem so easy But still held my hand the whole way through You knew it would be hard But you showed me what to do Now I am unafraid To lose myself, and let my feelings go I'm now one of the privileged few I can be true to myself, and let the real me show Now I can be open And you're the one that I thank For picking me up and loving the real me The day that my heart sank.