poem index

April 13, 2003 Poets House From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Edward Hirsch was born in Chicago on January 20, 1950 and educated both at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in folklore.

His first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in 1981 and went on to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Since then, he has published several books of poems, most recently The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994); and The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).

He is also the author of A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002); Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999); and the national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999), which the poet Garrett Hongo called "the product of a lifetime of passionate reflection" and "a wonderful book for laureate and layman both." Hirsch is also the author of Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007), which collects two years' worth of his weekly essay-letters running in the Washington Post Book World.

About his poetry, the poet Dana Goodyear wrote for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton into the abyss . . . Hirsch's poems [are] compassionate, reverential, sometimes relievingly ruthless."

Hirsch’s honors include an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in New York City.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)
The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)
Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf, 1981)

Prose

A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007)
The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002)
Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999)
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999)

Lay Back the Darkness

Edward Hirsch, 1950
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops. 

From Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 2003 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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.

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch

Born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, Edward Hirsch is a poet and literary advocate. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award

by this poet

poem
Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season 
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples 
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves 
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition 
With the final remaining cardinals) and then 
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last 
Settling into colorful
poem

Traveling over your body I found

The failing olive and the cajoling flute,

Where I knelt down, as if in prayer,

And sucked a moist pit

From the marl

Of the earth in a sacred cove.


You gave yourself to the god who comes,

The liberator

poem
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