my birthday present

my birthday present
My awesome birthday present 1/26/11 (see story under my first post)

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Jane Hirshfield is one of my favorite poets.  I have her book Given Sugar, Given Salt. It is a very small book but each poem is very powerful. In surveying the TED talks web site I ran across a new section of short videos in the section called TED ED. Here people are putting together videos to present a concept or short lesson. Hirshfield created a lesson on metaphors and I think it the most effective lesson on metaphors I have ever seen. I used it with my 6th graders and they loved it. You can watch it here. TED ED Simply type the word "metaphor"s in the search box. You may want to look around a bit for other topics that may interest you.

I am posting two of her poems. I would be interested to hear if you prefer one over the other, if so why. Marie, who faithfully responds to my posts suggests I encourage more people to make comments. It would certainly make the blog more interesting if we can  hear your thoughts. If you have difficulty posting just send me an email and I will place your thoughts in the comment section if you like.

This Was Once a Love Poem

by Jane Hirshfield
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie. Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen. It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus. Yes, it decides:
many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.

When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them-one, then another-
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

"This Was Once a Love Poem" by Jane Hirshfield,
from Given Sugar, Given Salt.
© Harper Perennial, 2002.


The Key
by Jane Hirshfiled

Morning unlocks the lake
as a woman with many keys might
come to open a house
where others are sleeping.
Enjoying the quiet possession.
Wiping the shelves of the mountain
with a lemony rag until they catch.
It is not hers. Those who live
there will claim it with raised voices,
with the closet doors' casual banging.
But for now, a single rowboat
drifts on the silvery water.
The oars are banked, the one sound
drips from the blades and widens
toward the enormous, dark-held shore.
There, the house is dreaming:
a red barrette on a wooden dresser,
somehow important. 

"The Key" by Jane Hirshfield, 
from The Lives of the Heart.
© Harper Perennial, 1997.

1 comment:

marie-josé said...

Two highly successful, beautiful pieces. Is “This Was Once a Love Poem” bittersweet ? Satiric? It is certainly meditative and poetic. (Not every poem is poetic.) First, Hirshfield evokes beauty and youth, when passion and ideals seem irrevocable, and when truth is written with a capital “T.” But as one grows older the world seems narrower. Conversations about “history, art” are replaced by “African violets or flowering cactus.” The small and tactile replaces the grand and abstract. Satisfaction replaces love. Or is love really gone? The “single finger outstretched like a tiny flame” announces a passion that never completely dies. There is a note of despair in the singleness, but also a note of hope in the flame.

“The Key” is another existential poem that flirts with the mythological. The woman who comes by the lake is like an earth goddess. At the same time, she is every woman contemplating her existence, as waters here are highly symbolic. And the house “dreaming” on the formidable shore, and compared to a “red barrette on a wooden dresser” evokes the familiar versus the infinite, our place in the universe that would appear as insignificant as dust but would change its whole equilibrium should we disappear.