Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award

Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch’s heart to our own, without sentimentality. From its opening lines—“The funeral director opened the coffin / And there he was alone / From the waist up”—Hirsch’s account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief. In propulsive three-line stanzas, he tells the story of how a once unstoppable child, who suffered from various developmental disorders, turned into an irreverent young adult, funny, rebellious, impulsive. Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.

Pages: 78 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Language: English

from Gabriel

I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night

The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief

I did not know I would struggle
Through a ragged underbrush
Without an upward path

Because there is no path
There is only a blunt rock
With a river to fall into

And Time with its medieval chambers
Time with its jagged edges
And blunt instruments

I did not know the work of mourning
Is a labor in the dark
We carry inside ourselves

Though sometimes when I sleep
I am with him again
And then I wake

Poor Sisyphus grief
I am not ready for your heaviness
Cemented to my body

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day


Edward Hirsch reads another excerpt from “Gabriel: A Poem”

Edward Hirsch reads a second excerpt from his new book, “Gabriel: A Poem,” an elegy for his son, who died in 2011, for PBS NewsHour

Edward Hirsch on “Gabriel: A Poem” at the 2016 AWP Book Fair

Edward Hirsch discusses his book of poetry, Gabriel, at the 2016 AWP Conference & Book Fair.

Poet Edward Hirsch on GABRIEL: A POEM at Midwest Literary Walk 2015

Poet Edward Hirsch discusses his deeply touching book, GABRIEL: A POEM, at the 2015 Midwest Literary Walk, April 25, 2015, in Chelsea, MI.


“Gabriel resists sentimentality at every line break, though it is the most heartfelt poem I have read.”
— Tim Adams, The Guardian

“A landmark work … an elegy of such artistry and candor that any reader, including those leery of poetry, will read it with rising awe. Hirsch masterfully tells the grueling, sometimes funny, and, finally, tragic story of the life and death of his son, Gabriel, in a commanding and propulsive book-length poem. Written in tercets (three-line stanzas) bereft of punctuation, Gabriel takes us through a childhood brutally hijacked by strangely tumultuous brain chemistry and the torments of cruelly tested parenthood. Hirsch recreates the hectic urgency of a boy in perpetual motion and ceaseless anxiety, describing Gabriel’s quicksilver moods, love of action and wheeling and dealing, wildly inventive humor, and insistence on being his impossibly unconventional and inconvenient self. Hirsch anoints his rampaging son ‘King of the Sudden Impulse / Lord of the Torrent / Emperor of the Impetuous,’ looks to other poets who lost children, and presents an explicit case study of his son’s diabolical illness and attempted treatments. His lightning-lit portrait of and surging lament for his hurricane of a son is a courageous, generous, and reverberating epic of fatherly love and mourning.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)


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