Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
After: Poems Paperback – February 20, 2007
See the Best Books of 2017
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
Serious, prayerful and governed by quietly sweeping abstract lines, Hirshfield's sixth collection of verse continues the meditative direction established in 2001's well-received Given Sugar, Given Salt. She subtitles many poems "an assay," meaning both a try and an exposition: the sky, the words "of " and "to" and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe all become such discursive test cases. Some assays are prose poems, a form that balances out Hirshfield's tropism toward restrained wonder. The tone overall, however, inclines decisively toward sadness and grief: the poet aspires "to live amid the great vanishing a cat must live,/ one shadow fully at ease inside another." Hirshfield brings a plainspoken American spirituality (think of Mary Oliver or Robert Bly) to bear on her interest in East Asian practice: a set of quite short (one to five lines) lyric efforts, under the collective title "Seventeen Pebbles," pares Hirshfield's sensibility to a Zen concision. A longer Japanese-influenced poem concludes, "slowness alone is not to be confused/ with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens." Clarification makes for consolation in this gentle and very unified book. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* A number of the finely measured and carefully weighted poems in Hirshfield's stirring new collection carry the subtitle "An Assay," meaning a trial or attempt, a study of characteristics, an analysis to determine the presence or absence of certain components. This is precisely what Hirshfield performs in poems constructed as cleverly and economically as riddles as she ponders the nature of hope, envy, certainty, and possibility. Intrigued with language's concealments and revelations, she has also crafted a series of provocative poems about how ordinary words--of, and, to, once--embody the workings of our minds. Keenly aware that there is much in the universe we're unable to detect and that we have little control over our fate, Hirshfield considers amplitude and chance in poems of exquisite restraint and meticulous reasoning, including a striking meditation on the paradoxical richness of spareness that can serve as her ars poetica. But these poems are not abstractions, they abound in earthly wonders: animals and leaves, rivers and snow, sky and rust. Hirshfield even calls her short poems "pebbles," and, indeed, they send ripples across the reflecting pool of our collective consciousness. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 57%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.
For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases now lets you buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less. (Textbooks available for $9.99 or less.)
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The poems that expound on the theme of the mind include "To Judgment," "To Opinion", "Articulation," and "To Speech." These poems all dwell on the limitations of speech and thought. They often begin with a positive appraisal of the word, by the end concludes that it is better to do without judgment or opinion or even speech. She says in "To Judgment,": "When I have erased you from me entirely, /disrobed of your measuring adjectives,/ stripped from my shoulders and hips each of your nouns, / when the world is horsefly, coal barge, and dawn the color of winter butter--- / not beautiful, not cold, only the color of butter---/ then perhaps I will love you. Helpless to not." To love the world is to not judge it, but only to experience it as it is, in nouns rather than adjectives. In "To Opinion," she says, "When you come rising strongly in me, I feel myself grow separate and more lonely." Instead of judging and appraising, she asks, ""What would it be / to take up no position, / to lie on this earth at rest, relieved of proof or change?" The merit of not thinking is further expounded in "Speech": "And so it is good we sometimes set you down/ and walk---- / unthinkng and peaceful, planning nothing---/ by the cold, salt, unobedient, unlistening sea.// Only then, without you, are we able to see you completely, / like those wandering monks / who, calling nowhere home, are everywhere home."
In order to get to a place of simply being, the poet needs to become aware of the dichotomy between the self who thinks and feels and the SELF who simply is. Many of the poems are about longing for this SELF. The poet says, "A day comes when the mouth grows tired of saying 'I'." In "Burlap Sack," she compares the SELF to a mule that carries thoughts and emotions on its back like sacks of sand or stones. "To think that the sand or stones are the self is an error," she says, "To think that grief is the self is an error. / Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags, being careful between trees to leave extra room." Watching a cat disappear as it waits for prey in the shade is like waiting for the SELF to emerge: "I would like to enter the silent portion as she does. // To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,/ one shadow fully at ease inside another."
Beyond the awareness of the multiple self is the ability to rest in "The Witness," that part of the self which is unchanging and unperturbed. In "Beneath the Snow, the Badger's Steady Breathing", the badger's existence in winter is like that of The Witness, "A life uninterrupting, /without want or aspiration./A persistence./And yet not meager. Not unfeeling." In "Ryoanji," a person who makes his way to "the silence just before he begins to weep" realizes that "it was always within him" and recognizes "the amplitude he hadn't believed was there." Of the depth of the mind, the poet says: "In the farthest depth, no sunlight reaches. / Yet certain fish, now eyeless, streak with luminescence when excited; / a lowered bathrysphere turns on a floodlight and is mobbed, / the strange-formed bodies drawing in for miles."
The practice of resting in The Witness allows us to momentarily experience The Ground of Being, which in Buddhist philosophy refers to the emptiness when mind and body drops away, what the poet calls, "the vast reach of all that is not, and still something is." The entrance to that space is short, often momentary, but we cannot experience it unchanged. In "The Promise," the poet says that awakening is "as if the great dog of confusion guarding my heart, who is always sleepless, suddenly slept. It was not any awakening of the large, not so much as that, only a stepping back from the petty./...Whatever direction the fates of my life might travel, I trusted." The ground of being is like the sky, it "doesn't age or remember, / carries neither grudge nor hope. / Every morning is new as the last one, uncreased / as the not quite imaginable first. / From the fate of thunderstorms, hailstorms, fog, / sky learns no lesson, / leaping through any window as soon as it's raised." The result of resting in the Ground of Being is an equanimity, the ability to accept all things without rejection or craving: "I long for the calm acceptance of a bentwood chair and envy the blue green curve of a vase's shoulder, which holds whatever is placed within it---the living flower or the dead---with an equally tender balance, and knows no difference between them."
Despite longing for transcendence, the poet recognizes that emotions such as grief are so fundamentally human that it is not easy to detach oneself through meditation. Perhaps it would not be desirable to detach ourselves from all emotion, as those are what makes us human. In "The Monk Stood Beside a Wheelbarrow," the poet describes a monk standing weeping next to a wheelbarrow, his tears falling into the metal basin, causing it to rust. "God or Buddha nowhere to be seen--" she says, "these tears were fully human, / bitter, broken, / falling onto the wheelbarrow's rusty side. // I knew I also had a place on this hard earth." Yet it is important to experience those emotions, because only by allowing them to exist, can one move on. "In a Room with Five People, Six Griefs" she allows for that space: "Let the room hold them, their fears, their anger. // Let there be walls and windows, a ceiling. // A door through which time/ changer of everything / can enter."
In addition to grief, the pleasures of the body also make us human. In "Ah!: An Assay," the gods come to earth and become mortal for the "ah" of bodily pleasure--barley soup, sex, barnyard odors, sleep itself. In "The Dead Do Not Want us Dead", the poet asserts, "return one of them, any one of them, to the earth, / and look: such foolish skipping, / such telling of bad jokes, such feasting! / Even a cucumber, even a single anise seed: feasting." The practice of transcendence is not meant to take us away from reality, but rather to experience it more fully. The collection ends with these simple lines that seems to sum up all experience: "Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad, / you slept, you awakened. / Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons." Ordinary reality. Eternal significance.
The style and organization of the poems evoke the experience of zen. The poems are not arranged into sections, and switches from one theme to another. The result is not a structured experience, like a Buddhist teacher guiding you to nirvana, the lack of structure rather evokes the Zen tradition, in which enlightenment emerges spontaneously, unanticipated in the gaps between everyday activity, such as the silence after thought or before weeping. The lines are often endstopped, with a line break or stanza break occuring after a period or comma, inviting the reader to enter the silence after the word.
Anyway, I loved these poems. I used soup above advisedly. You will find more than a couple references in these poems to soup, and, it seems to me, that when a poet repeats images/objects you might want to be alert that, for instance here, soup may be somewhat more than veggies and broth. Along similar lines, Ms Hirshfield will introduce you here to a variety of dogs: real, imagined, past, present, dream, rose-quartz colored, and at least once (in a title) metaphoric. Ms. Hirshfield has written lovingly in "Nine Gates" (her marvelous set of poetic essays on poetry) about James Wright's "messenger angels". It seems, perhaps, that her dogs are sometimes cast in this role in this collection. You might watch/listen for them.
More than one observer has noted the sheen of sadness that overlays much of "After". I think sometimes that the "zen-ness" of these poems leans them in that direction. I'll leave it to more qualified/knowledgeable reviewers to deal properly with that, but it does seem that zen can tend toward the somber. Then, too, it could just be that Ms. Hirshfield is particularly attuned to the bitter-sweetness that life doles out whether we want it or not. Her (along with Mariko Aratani) surpassingly, inexhaustibly wonderful translations of the tanka of the Heian era poets Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu ("The Ink Dark Moon") are full to overflowing with the ineffable transcience of love and life. No doubt that is present throughout the originals, but the deftness of the translations could not have originated in a non-kindred soul.
Still there is, if not great joy, great beauty in these poems. "Beneath the Snow, the Badger's Steady Breathing" ends with "- Sharp starlight coming all the way down to the snow." In her "Assay" on "Translucence" she's following that rose-quartz colored dream dog thusly: "A shadow opened then folded behind her./ I followed as if past a gate latch/ sliding closed of its own silent weight." The already noted "blue green shoulder of the vase" and, possibly the most beautiful image in the collection in "To Judgment: An Assay" in a line eschewing the very judgment of beautiful: a "dawn the color of winter butter -".
There is here, too, the quietly enigmatic. Try the opening poem "After Long Silence". Read closely and ask what "thought" is untranslatable and where, if thoughts start with words, do they go after? Is silence itself an answer to both questions and if so is "after" "post" or "pursuit"? Also, as already noted, "Red Scarf" which notes it's "for L.B. (1950-2004)". Whose scarf is it? Ms Hirshfield's or L.B.'s? Doesn't the "inconceivable before" (with before in italics) change considerably depending? All that's sure is the loss, the grief, the missing.
Two more thoughts and I'll let this go. I used the term quietly above and that's a characteristic of the entire collection. One of the quietest and one of my favorite poems (not likely to be everyone's) is "Sheep's Cheese" which I'd like to quote most of
In the cellar, sheep's milk cheeses
Once a week, a man comes to turn them.
Sixty pounds lifted like child after child,
lain back re-wrapped
The wheels are only sheep's milk, not ripening souls.
He sings no lullabye to them. But his arms know the weight.
I find this poem full of gentleness, quietness, tenderness; of ritual, of steadfastness; of the love found in certain labors; of the uncommon cosmic found in the most common of objects. And it's probably full of quite a bit more than that. Surely, though, it and the rest of these poems are Ms Hirshfield's wheels and, while they, too, are mere objects - her arms also know the weight.
And finally, the last three lines of the last poem are a kind of zen conclusion to the story of life played out within them. While the lines are addressed specifically, I think they can be read more generally: "Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,/ you slept, you awakened./ Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons." Others have noted these lines, but sometimes stopped before that last line with its heat prepared roasted chestnuts and its cold ripened persimmons, one sweet, the other tart - or slightly bitter, if you will.
Much poetry is written about itself, about art. This poetry is written about life and reading it will enrich your own in quiet but generous ways. If its vision is slightly canted toward the dark, yet it is, as Ms. Hirshfield herself describes in "Pyracantha and Plum": "a self portrait both clearer and darker,/ as if while I slept some Rembrandt or Brueghel/ had walked through the garden, looking hard."