Jane Hirshfield is the author of four previous collections of poetry; a collection of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry; and a wonderful anthology Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. Her special spiritual perspective shines through all these varied works. We might call Hirshfield a connoisseur of wonder, always attentive to the moment and the bounties that lie within it.
"Poetry's work is the clarification and magnification of being," the author wrote in an essay. The 69 poems in this sumptuous collection attest to this truth. Hirshfield believes silence is the perfect setting for epiphanies: "Only when I am quiet for a long time / and do not speak / do the objects of my life draw near." The poet opens her heart and lo and behold: "Shy, the scissors and spoons, the blue mug. / Hesitant even the towels / for all their intimate knowledge and scent of fresh bleach." The moment is hallowed by Hirshfield's openness, and the rewards are wonder-ful: "For I hear the sigh of happiness / each object gives off" ("Only When I Am Quiet and Do Not Speak"). Her immersion in the world of things also takes us into the strange but pleasurable worlds of a button, a pillow, ink, and a rock. In the last, she observes: "As for this boulder / its meditations are slow but complete" ("Rock").
Hirshfield celebrates the plenitude of being as she ponders the mysteries of transitoriness ("Nothing Lasts"), our repetitive behavior ("Habit"), the unexpected openings in our lives ("The Envoy"), the choices that give texture to our days ("A Cedary Fragrance"), and the miracle of resilience ("Optimism").
In "Happiness Is Harder," the poet writes: "To read a book of poetry / from back to front, / there is the cure for certain kinds of sadness." No matter which way you read this book, it will encompass your heart and bring you delight. Hirshfield's lyrical and contemplative poetry is a passport to ever larger fields of wonder.