Magazine article World Literature Today

Come, Thief

Magazine article World Literature Today

Come, Thief

Article excerpt

Jane Hirshfield. Come, Thief. New York. Knopf. 2011. isbn 978- 0307595423

Although the range of material and features of style are essentially that of her earlier work-that is, not developmentally new-Jane Hirshfield's latest book of poetry nevertheless offers some of her best poems to date. In her best work, what she does quintessentially well is to juxtapose two subjects in a figurative comparison to produce some new insight, some new facet of perception. While this is what every good original metaphor does, Hirshfield seeks especially the feeling of Zen's zenki (dynamic movement) and satori (awakening), if one may be permitted to speak of satori in degree.

The Buddhist influence on Hirshfield's poetry may not be news, but it is important to keep it in mind when reading her work. Again, although we find these qualities of metaphorical splendor in nearly every line written by Wallace Stevens, what makes Hirshfield's work different is the concomitant influence of Zen on voicing, mood, and verbal restraint. Take these lines, for instance, from "The Tongue Says Loneliness": "As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it. // Not a bell, / but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape, / lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron." We hear here the challenge of a Zen koan, the implicit question that forces us beyond logic. We find also the epigrammatic tendency that is so prevalent in Hirshfield's work, including the penchant for Zen didacticism. Further, we see her working in one of the four dominant moods or speaker-dispositions of Zen, in this case yugen (a sense of the mystery in things, the mystery of our world). …

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