Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

by Jane Hirshfield
     
 

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A dazzling collection of essays on how the best poems work, from the master poet and essayist
 
“Poetry,” Jane Hirshfield has said, “is language that foments revolutions of being.” In ten eloquent and highly original explorations, she unfolds and explores some of the ways this is done—by the inclusion of hiddenness,

Overview

A dazzling collection of essays on how the best poems work, from the master poet and essayist
 
“Poetry,” Jane Hirshfield has said, “is language that foments revolutions of being.” In ten eloquent and highly original explorations, she unfolds and explores some of the ways this is done—by the inclusion of hiddenness, paradox, and surprise; by a perennial awareness of the place of uncertainty in our lives; by language’s own acts of discovery; by the powers of  image, statement, music, and feeling to enlarge in every direction. The lucid understandings presented here are gripping and transformative in themselves. Investigating the power of poetry to move and change us becomes in these pages an equal investigation into the inhabitance and navigation of our human lives.

Closely reading poems by Dickinson, Bashō, Szymborska, Cavafy, Heaney, Bishop, and Komunyakaa, among many others, Hirshfield reveals how poetry’s world-making takes place: word by charged word. By expanding what is imaginable and sayable, Hirshfield proposes, poems expand what is possible. Ten Windows restores us at every turn to a more precise, sensuous, and deepened experience of our shared humanity and of the seemingly limitless means by which that knowledge is both summoned and forged.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
01/19/2015
Hirshfield, a poet and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, ponders the value and function of poetry in 10 insightful essays. Following up on her earlier nonfiction book Nine Gates, Hirshfield delves into various works written across multiple styles and centuries. She begins with a perceptive lesson about the way a poet—and a poem—sees the world, later exploring the theme of “the hidden,” referring to both subterranean layers of meaning in a piece of writing and the protective concealments common in nature, in which, according to a biologist, “hiddenness is the default.” Elsewhere, Hirshfield shows how asking questions about poems, from Basho’s haiku to Walt Whitman’s American epics, can lead to answers about ourselves. In this vein, she tackles “American-ness” as it’s manifested in modern American poetry, concluding that our “culture created by immigration, by mobility of psyche and of body.” Hirshfield writes with a poet’s voice and imparts wisdom on nearly every page. In a particularly lucid selection, “Poetry and the Constellation of Surprise,” she explains how important it is that poetry transcend reason, because reason “cannot and does not encompass the whole of life.” Hirshfield’s in-depth tour of poetry and art leaves a lasting impression. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“Probing and insightful…deeply illuminating…This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
 
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers...Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books

“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry . . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work  . . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review

"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s “musical shapeliness,” “creative intention,” embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound “unlatching.” She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry “counters isolation and meaninglessness.” The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

Library Journal
★ 02/15/2015
In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry. Hirshfield (Come, Thief; After) is not only a sensitive reader, but a pleasure to read. Her approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner's best work. And, like Kenner's best work, Hirshfield never pontificates, she simply opens windows. The ten chapters explore the workings of poetry in general but center on a small gathering of poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Matsuo Basho, C.P. Cavafy, Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Elizabeth Bishop, and Emily Dickinson, among others. Not an overview, and not simply a collection of random essays, this book gives one the sensation that poetry is truly a force that could change the world. One of the most beautiful passages is a description of snow taken from a journal of Hopkins. Hirshfield gently juxtaposes that lyrical meditation on a snowy vista with a handful of pictures from Hopkins's poetry and by doing so gently opens readers' eyes to the distinction between prose and poetry. In this luminous moment, she models not only great critical insight but perfect pedagogical aplomb. Another notable passage grapples with the wonders of Bishop's "The Map." VERDICT Regardless of future reputation, this thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn't to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink. [See Prepub Alert, 9/29/14.]—Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Acad., Houston

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385351058
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/17/2015
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
222,550
Product dimensions:
7.40(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ten Windows

How Great Poems Transform the World


By Jane Hirshfield

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2015 Jane Hirshfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-385-35105-8


PREFACE

Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us—more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.

This book continues the investigation begun in an earlier volume, "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry". The questions pursued by poems themselves are speckled, partial, and infinite. These books, though, pursue as well a single question: How do poems—how does art—work? Under that question, inevitably, is another: How do we? Inside the intricate clockworks of language and music, event and life, what allows and invites us to feel and know as we do, and then increase our feeling and knowing? Such a question cannot be answered. "We" are different, from one another and, moment by moment, from even ourselves. "Art," too, is a word deceptively single of surface. Still, following this question for thirty years has given me pleasure, and some sense of approaching more nearly a destination whose center cannot ever be mapped or reached.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC, 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.

Meet the Author

JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. She has edited and cotranslated four books presenting the work of poets from the past and is the author of two major collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize; they have been named best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon, and Financial Times; and they have won the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall–Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry, The New Republic, and eight editions of The Best American Poetry. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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