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American Life in Poetry

Sun., July 22, 2012

Jane Hirshfield, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, is one of our country’s finest poets, and I have never seen a poem of hers that I didn’t admire. Here’s a fine one that I see as being about our inability to control the world beyond us.

The Promise

Stay, I said

to the cut flowers.

They bowed

their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,

who fled.

Stay, leaf.

It reddened,

embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.

It sat as a dog does,

obedient for a moment,

soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth

of riverine valley meadows,

of fossiled escarpments,

of limestone and sandstone.

It looked back

with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.

Each answered,


Poem copyright 2011 by Jane Hirshfield, from her most recent book of poems, “Come, Thief,” Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Hirshfield and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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