Read To Me – Day Twenty-Five

In Praise of Coldness, by Jane Hirshfield

“If you wish to move your reader,”
Checkhov wrote, “you must write more coldly.”

Herakleitos recommended, “A dry soul is best.”

And so at the center of many great works
is found a preserving dispassion,
like the vanishing point of quattrocento perspective,
or the tiny packets of desiccant enclosed
in a box of new shoes or seeds.

But still the vanishing point
is not the painting,
the silica is not the blossoming plant.

Chekhov, dying, read the timetables of trains.
To what more earthly thing could he have been faithful? —
Scent of rocking distances,
smoke of blue trees out the window,
hampers of bread, pickled cabbage, boiled meat.

Scent of the knowable journey.

Neither a person entirely broken
nor one entirely whole can speak.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.


Scent of the knowable journey.

Neither a person entirely broken
nor one entirely whole can speak.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

Those last three sparse stanzas just get me. If the poem said nothing else, I would be satisfied. But of course, it says so much more. It’s author says so much more.

Hirshfield was among the first graduating class of Princeton that included women. Belonging to such a group, and creating this poem strikes me as two remarkably intelligent feats for one person to manage in one lifetime, but of course, one such as she would not stop there. Hirshfield’s life is positively crammed with language — the emotional and intellectual pursuit of that most human possession and its never ending evolution.

On my last trip to the local library, I picked up The Best American Poetry, 2001 (Eds. Hass & Lehman). There are treasures here, some get me like this one I’m sharing today, some don’t. Nonetheless, I look forward to digging through this entire treasure chest.

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3 thoughts on “Read To Me – Day Twenty-Five

  1. Her writing moves me – I am compelled to buy her books as soon as they’re published (and few writers affect me that way). One of my favorite love poems is “Not Moving Even One Step,” which is devastating.

    Liked by 1 person

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