Edward Hirsch’s sixth collection is a descent into the darkness of middle age, narrated with exacting tenderness. He explores the boundaries of human fallibility both in candid personal poems, such as the title piece—a plea for his father, a victim of Alzheimer’s wandering the hallway at night—and in his passionate encounters with classic poetic texts, as when Dante’s Inferno enters his bedroom:
When you read Canto Five aloud last night
in your naked, singsong, fractured Italian,
my sweet compulsion, my carnal appetite,
I suspected we shall never be forgiven
for devouring each other body and soul . . .
From the lighting of a Yahrzeit candle to the drawings by the children of Terezin, Hirsch longs for transcendence in art and in the troubled history of his faith. In “The Hades Sonnets,” the ravishing series that crowns the collection, the poet awakens full of grief in his wife’s arms, but here as throughout, there is a luminous forgiveness in his examination of our sorrows. Taken together, these poems offer a profound engagement with our need to capture what is passing (and past) in the incandescence of language.
Pages: 88 pages
Publisher: Knopf (2003)
I Am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic
Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.
The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.
Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.
I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.
I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.
I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.
I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.
Edward Hirsch Animated
Featured in Rattapallax. Animated by Scott Gelber, filmed by Leland Krane and produced by Rattapallax and Teleportal Readings. Filmed at the Bowery Poetry Club.
Rattapallax Feature: Edward Hirsch
Interview and short film about poet Edward Hirsch. Produced by Ram Devineni. All right reserved by Rattapallax.
“It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton into the abyss… Hirsch’s poems [are] compassionate, reverential, sometimes relievingly ruthless.”
— Dana Goodyear, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Carefully and subtly ordered… Hirsch in his highest mode.”
— Chris King, Washington Post Book World
“Poems of rare, passionate spiritual energy… Hirsch’s imagery is luminous and uplifting.”
— Charles Guenther, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Whether he’s contemplating Homer or the Holocaust, standing transfixed before a painting by Agnes Martin, or holding a handful of fresh figs, Hirsch embraces language as a mystical force, and he and his readers truly are transported.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist