Nov 1, 2013

Jane Hirshfield, Beings in the Holes

Golden Crowned Kinglet, a new life bird for me
 Do you remember Theodore Roethke’s villanelle, and hymn, “The Waking” in which he offers, “I hear my being dance from ear to ear”?  Jane Hirshfield’s “Like the Small Hole by the Path-Side Something Lives,” finds something similar, a somewhere within us, other than our conscious awareness, where there are small holes housing unknown critters. They live and die and  go extinct, but we can know they do live and have lived within us.

I wonder if someone will accuse the poem of being Buddhism 101, but I don’t care; I  find its imagery and its mind’s work very appealing. Click here:

Like the Small Hole by the Path-Side Something Lives in by Jane Hirshfield : Poetry Magazine

I like the quirky, homey, perhaps awkward phrasing of the important first and last lines, where I hear a lack of pretension, a kind of honesty, something like an inelegant elegance. Maybe Hirshfield had to work hard for that phrasing, but she’s made it convincing as a humble, likable, trustworthy statement.

Even the music in this realm is heard by something other than ears. Music as we know can be pretty good, but it would be too tangible, too logical and conventional for Hirshfield's realm. The music that matters is going down some stairs, to a place beyond understanding, maybe even beyond hearing—beyond science and knowing. Yet it’s music, and it’s there.
Kinglet, bowing, reveals his golden crown

The self is a “low field” with apples. If you’re not a politician or CEO, full of greedy ambition, that might be a pleasant and reasonable view of yourself. You’d rather be a quiet field than a king, or a gun, or other kinds of machines that are “like loud ideas with tungsten bits that grind the day.”

I routinely get carried away with this or that idea, but how can anyone not love Hirshfield’s comparison of nasty ideas to cold, hard machines—metallic systems that make noise and break things up? Much better to be a field with apples.

But Hirshfield does not abandon or deny what we might call realism or rationality, if those are the words to describe ways of being that include matter and reason, but are not limited to them.

Nor are Hirshfield’s ways and perceptions a pie-in-the-sky, teddy-bear wonderfulness in our souls.  And they feel less bombastic, but no less important, than Wordsworth’s “one soul within us and abroad.”

No, Hirshfield includes predation and extinction, and her landscape is a “low field,” not a snow-capped mountain or a sunset ocean. Her field’s apples are “small and blemished.” Hirshfield is not sloppily sentimental about whatever’s out there, down there, around there, inside all those holes.

If you were a small, blemished apple in a low field, however, you’d see that “a few escape” predation and other bad outcomes. That’s what passes for “a mercy.” It’s a qualified, limited, realistic mercy; therefore, we might dare to hope for it.  

Are Hirshfield’s “self-map,” “self-clock,” and “self-scale” merely new, and New Age, takes on the familiar notion of a mysterious essence beyond physical forms? I don’t think so, but even if they are, the fact remains that she’s making us re-examine all that mystery, giving us new peeks at The Something, the whole possibility that there’s more to us, and everything, than we can understand or explain.

We can’t know if this approach is more valid than the old, hackneyed ways of labeling the streets that run within us, for we are only small holes by the roadside, small animals and blemished apples in a field. But why isn’t that enough?

Like the Small Hole by the Path-Side Something Lives in by Jane Hirshfield : Poetry Magazine

We also talked about such matters here in January 2011:


RuneE said...

You have caught the autumn with your lens, and maybe the author also have caught a some kind of autumn with her poem. I see the self-reflection and can recognize the wondering about what causes/caused the changes
she feels. But whether it can be called Buddhism, new age or what-not is uninteresting. That is just a label, trying to hide the content of this poem. Labels are often used for that purpose.

I ramble a lot today.

Jean Spitzer said...

Beautiful photos.

Interesting in its awkwardness to read out load.

I haven't visited the poetry foundation yet. Such a large, fancy, modern structure. About the last building on the street that I would guess belonged to a poetry foundation.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to return with more time, because this is worth it.

Banjo52 said...

Rune, thank you! But that's not rambling. That's an important point about labeling. I only raised the issues of Buddhism and New Age thinking because I thought I'd preempt others who were heading that way. Hirshfield's thinking and language here strike me as original and authentic, not at all trite, as she tries for the spiritual or whatever we choose to call that other realm.

Jean, thank you. Poetry Foundation inherited a ton of money just a few years ago. I'm not surprised that their digs are impressive, but this is the first I've heard about it.

Karin, good. I think so too--no matter what one's take is on these matters, they are important.

Stickup Artist said...

The poem put me in mind of the whole parallel lives theory, idea, whatever you want to call it. Where other selves are living out other possibilities that the earthbound self did not. I loved it. And as always, love your photos!

Banjo52 said...

Stickup, thank you. And I can feel a golden crowned kinglet burrowing in my armpit even as we speak.
("Many words of truth in jest are spoken." Or, "There are no jokes.")

Hannah Stephenson said...

For some reason, I couldn't read the poem via the link! I could search for it and find it elsewhere, though...

I always think Jane Hirshfield's poems are so deceptively simple. I adore her work. Her diction is so precise and clean and surprising to me, without feeling forced (as you said, it has an "inelegant elegance").

Kelly said...

...your photos of the golden-crowned kinglet are beautiful. I love when the males display the orange hiding beneath the yellow crown! Congrats on adding them to your life list! They are adorable birds, and i can watch them for hours!

...the shots of autumn color are beautiful as well.

(I still need to read the poem! On to it next.)

Banjo52 said...

Hannah, that's strange. It's at Poetry Foundation if you don't find it anywhere else. And yes to "deceptively simple"--when a poet does that, there's always a risk of being thought simplistic.

Kelly, thank you. For reasons others have stated, it might be a poem that's easy to like--and be looked at for hours, like kinglets!

Ken Mac said...

Thanks for your thought provoking question back at my place. Doesn't evil typically devour beauty in any form? We seem to hear more about depravity fouling innocence these days, cause it sells papers and such. But it's an old problem that just seems to grow worse with time. Greed, avarice, jealousy, definitely not the fruit of the spirit.

Ken Mac said...

and beautiful photos Banjo!

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