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)

Wild Gratitude

Edward Hirsch, 1950
Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey, 
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth, 
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens, 
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air, 
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight, 
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart, 
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing 
In every one of the splintered London streets,
 
And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke's 
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude, 
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics, 
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry. 
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how 
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759, 
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience. 

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General 
"And all conveyancers of letters" for their warm humanity, 
And the gardeners for their private benevolence 
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers, 
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness. 
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles 
On the rickety stairs in the early morning, 

And how terrible it must have seemed 
When even this small pleasure was denied him. 
But it wasn't until tonight when I knelt down 
And slipped my hand into Zooey's waggling mouth 
That I remembered how he'd called Jeoffry "the servant 
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him," 
And for the first time understood what it meant. 
Because it wasn't until I saw my own cat 
 
Whine and roll over on her fluffy back 
That I realized how gratefully he had watched 
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork 
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently 
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening 
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose 
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or 
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse, 
A rodent, "a creature of great personal valour," 
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped. 

And only then did I understand 
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him— 
Who can teach us how to praise—purring 
In their own language, 
Wreathing themselves in the living fire. 

From Wild Gratitude by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 1986 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

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
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