Image by Nick Rosza

Jane Hirshfield

b. 1953

Hirshfield's poems renew, reaffirm the power of language to move deeply, to articulate experience precisely. - The Antioch Review

Each Happiness Ringed by Lions

Jane Hirshfield

Opening the Hands Between Here and Here

Jane Hirshfield

The Bell Zygmunt

Jane Hirshfield

Manners / Rwanda

Jane Hirshfield

The Adamantine Perfection of Desire

Jane Hirshfield

For What Binds Us

Jane Hirshfield

Previous Next

About Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953, USA) is the author of six books of poetry, several translations and two collections of essays. Her most recent volume After, on being published in both the US and UK, was nominated for the UK's T. S. Eliot Award and named one of the Washington Post's best books of 2006. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Academy of American Poets and the National Endowment for the Arts; other awards include the Poetry Center Book Award, Columbia University's Translation Center Award and the Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal.

Her work gravitates toward the point where the philosophical, emotional, and sensual realms intersect. 'To Judgment: An Assay,' for example, contains metaphysical and imagistic investigations of its subject, but also records the poet's internal struggle with the role judgment plays in a life. Hirshfield's introductory definition of the subtitle 'assay' illumines the approach of many of her poems: the term, she says, is used as it is "in the mining industry, where a substance is disassembled and analysed to determine the strengths and quality of its various parts; only in this case the examination is done with the imaginative mind rather than the chemical one."

Here is a poet who can state that "immensity taps at your life", as Hirshfield does in describing a great redwood in 'Tree', a poem balancing the calm existence of those large, long-lived trees and the transitory, daily understandings of our human lives. A philosophical temperament does not, however, mean other emotions, such as love, rage and anguish, are absent. 'The Adamantine Perfection of Desire' deals with the irrefutable power of that human drive, showing how, at last, "The living cannot help but love the world." 'The Poet' and 'Manners / Rwanda', in turn, demonstrate Hirshfield's keen awareness of "the wider sufferings of the world", suffering acknowledged as a "privilege to know only from newspapers", as her introduction to the latter poem has it.

Formally, her work can range from subtly cadenced free verse, through the hypnotic rhetoric and repetition of 'Spell To Be Said Upon Departure', to the form she calls "wandering rhyme," heard perhaps most clearly in 'Milk', where it lends a shaping music to Hirshfield's stringent exploration of a seemingly harmless commodity. In her performance here, she reads with measured calmness, approaching her own poetry as Robert Pinsky states her essays do the poems of others, "in a way that feels exactly right to me: plainly, reverently, intelligently."

This recording was made on the 28th November, 2007 at the Command Productions, Sausalito, California and was produced by Dave Radlauer.

Additional material and useful links

Kitchen Ants and Everyday Epiphanies

For Jane Hirshfield, every action is a form of judgment.

Jane Hirshfield

reads her poems "Heat" and "Autumn Heat."

All Too Human

Jane Hirshfield reads two short poems: 'Of: An Assay' and 'The Envoy.'

The Poem Show: American Poetry Special

On the Poetry Trust website, an edition of the Poem Show featuring American poets at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. With intriguing and provocative readings from Mark Halliday, Jane Hirshfield, and...

Selected bibliography

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, HarperCollins...

Each Happiness Ringed By Lions, Bloodaxe Books 2005


After, HarperCollins 2006 / Bloodaxe Books 2006


The October Palace, HarperCollins 1994

The Lives of the Heart, HarperCollins 1997

Of Gravity and Angels, Wesleyan University Press 1988

Take a tour

Jean Sprackland's tour

There are so many good poems in the Children's Archive, it's hard to know where to start! I'd like to share with you...

Take Jean Sprackland's tour >