Award-winning American poet Jane Hirshfield has just published a new collection of poems. "Come, Thief" features themes of love, compassion, contemplation and the poignancy of a human life fully lived.
Hirshfield sits in an anteroom at Poets House in New York about an hour before she appears before a large crowd to read from her seventh collection of poem.
“The title is a signal of welcoming what is inevitable into our lives,” says Hirshfied, who adds that the “‘thief” could have many meanings. “But what it primarily means in this book is time; time which brings us everything that we will ever experience and takes from us from us everything that we will ever experience, and one of the main threads of this book is simply saying ‘yes’ to that process. Yes to whatever comes, the difficult, the ecstatic, and yes to whatever goes – everything we will ever love and finally ourselves.”
The line, “Come, thief, the path to the doorway agrees,” appears in the title poem. Hirshfield explains its meaning.
“All paths welcome whatever wants to walk on them. The person delivering the mail comes down the path, the thief comes down the path. Your beloved comes down the path. Your enemy comes down the path, and the path never chooses. The path says yes to it all.”
Hirshfield says that she would like heself to be such a path “that allows every human experience entrance and says ‘welcome.’”
Hirshfield is nearing 60 and this poetry collection is largely about the landmarks of a life, including the fact that she found true love at age 49.
In the poem, “Two Rains,” she contrasts the wild and chaotic rain in California, where she lives, with the dull, predictable kind alluded to in the line “Windless blunt and cold, that orderly rain, like a fate uninterrupted by late love."
She explains her meaning. "We human beings. We’re very strange creatures. We think we want order. We think we want safety. We think we want security. But we really want – or what I really want - is to be absolutely overwhelmed, disordered, thrown into chaos and disarray by something absolutely fantastic which is larger than I am. And almost nothing rivals love for that."
Even so, Hirshfield wants her poems to express all aspects of a life. "Because part of the work of poetry is to make you permeable to the experience not only inside your own skin but the experience all around you.”
Hirshfield says universal human truths always play themselves out in the context of unique human lives. We are all in this together, but our stories belong to each of us alone.
“Every perfume comes from individual flowers. It might be ten thousand roses in one little vial of oil of roses, but each one was individual, had its life, had its roots had its bee. And there is no escaping it. We don’t live in a general world. We live in particular one.”
This seems to be part of the message in this excerpt from Hirshfield’s poem “French Horn.”
For a few days only,
the plum tree outside the window
No matter the plums will be small,
eaten only by squirrels and jays.
I feast on one thing, they on another,
the shoaling bees on a third.
What in this unpleated world isn’t someone’s seduction?
For Hirshfield, life is not our ideas about life, or even our poems about it. Indeed, in her poem, “The Tongue Says Loneliness," she suggests life is not a gate, but rather a horse plunging through it.
All this can be found in “Come, Thief,” her seventh collection of poems, published by Knopf.
Extended interview with Jane Hirshfield:
Jane Hirshfield reads "Come, Thief"
Jane Hirshfield reads "French Horn"