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September 22, 2008 From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City on February 24, 1953. After receiving her BA from Princeton University in its first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Her books of poetry include The Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); After (HarperCollins, 2006); Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Lives of the Heart (HarperCollins, 1997); The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994); Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988); and Alaya (Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Series, 1982).

Hirshfield is also the author of Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015) and Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperCollins, 1997). She has also edited and cotranslated The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (Vintage Books, 1990) with Mariko Aratani; Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems (Beacon Press, 2006) with Robert Bly; Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (HarperCollins, 1994); and an ebook on Basho, The Heart of Haiku (2011).

About her work, the poet Rosanna Warren has said:

Hirshfield has elaborated a sensuously philosophical art that imposes a pause in our fast-forward habits of mind. Her poems appear simple, and are not. Her language, in its cleanliness and transparency, poses riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature...Clause by clause, image by image, in language at once mysterious and commonplace, Hirshfield's poems clear a space for reflection and change. They invite ethical awareness, and establish a delicate balance.

Poet Kay Ryan has praised Jane Hirshfield, saying:

She is that rare thing in contemporary American life, a true person of letters—an eloquent and exacting poet, first, but in addition the author of enduring essays and influential translations and anthologies. Now add to this a life on the hustings, bringing the good news about poetry to nearly every state of the union. Then further add her elegant ambassadorship for poetry in the greater world (think Japan, Poland, China) and you have something that satisfies the old sense of a person of letters—a writer who demonstrates in every possible way that this life matters.

Her honors include the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award, Columbia University's Translation Center Award, the Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal, the Poetry Center Book Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Her work has been selected for seven editions of Best American Poetry. In 2004, Hirshfield was awarded the seventieth Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets.

In addition to her work as a freelance writer, editor, and translator, Hirshfield has taught in the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars, at UC Berkeley, and at the University of San Francisco. She has been a visiting Poet-in-Residence at Duke University, the University of Alaska, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere, and has been the Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Selected Bibliography

The Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)
Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
After (HarperCollins, 2006)
Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001)
The Lives of the Heart (HarperCollins, 1997),
The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994)
Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988)
Alaya (Quarterly Review of Literature Poetry Series, 1982)

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

Originally published in Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Originally published in Of Gravity & Angels (Wesleyan University Press, 1988); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, includingThe Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), which was nominated for the National Book Award. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet


I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.

I dress doubting,
like a cup 
undecided if it has been dropped.

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.

I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a


An extra day—

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day—

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.



Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song
Today when the maple sets down its red leaves
Today when windows keep their promise to open
Today when fire keeps its promise to warm
Today when someone you