inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #26 of 103: Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Thu 23 Feb 06 13:32

reading *After*, i'm struck by the severity of the language, not in all
poems, but in many. in "Two Washings," say, or "The Woodpecker Keeps
Returning," a sense of rawness (a naked minimalism of word use) makes these
well-chosen words feel intimate. this creates a tension against the very
deliberate, shaped, occasionally claustrophobic feel that i get while
reading something so precise. relating it back to the public readings and
other issues discussed above (and in Writers) -- it almost feels like the
words themselves allow you to create an image of your very skeleton, the
bones on your x-ray, while you use that same alphabet to weave a beautiful,
formal coat. even when you use the first person, i rarely feel like i'm
seeing your skin. is that intentional?
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #27 of 103: Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Thu 23 Feb 06 13:33

and if that question was too much of a confusing mess, please let me know &
i will attempt to rephrase!
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #28 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 23 Feb 06 14:29
Ah, the conversation begins to thicken.

Sarah, I've read the classic Taoist texts, but have not been immersed
seriously enough as a scholar in that tradition to be able to tell you
which thread or school has influenced me most. All my formal training
is in Zen; but the true training of course is in life. I am something
of a sponge, taking in every water offered. Researching and writing the
framing material for Women In Praise of the Sacred was a crash course
for me not only in poetry, but in spiritual traditions, for which I
also did some deeper background research. But these archtypes are
archtypes because they are so central to a full ripening of
understanding, aren't they?  I do agree with you that the model of the
wise old woman is essential, and not only to those of us who are women
looking at our own lives and forebears.

Gary, I do think that the speech of a poem is not exactly the same as
ordinary speech, even for poets (think of Ginsberg, or Ashbery or
O'Hara) whose intention is a kind of recording of the mind-stream. But
I myself am closer to the Emily Dickinson mode--when she writes "After
great pain, a formal feeling comes," I think she is describing also the
way that depth of perception, strength of feeling and comprehension,
raise in us something different from the rhythms and grammar of
ordinary thought and speech. One of the great pleasures is how closely
certain good poems can approach ordinary speech, and yet we recognize
in them something heightened, that acts as a kind of focussing
mechanism for the writer, for the reader. William Carlos WIlliams so
often does that. As did Duchamps's urinal, in another way. The frame of
poetry changes the way the words are perceived. And for me, inside me,
changes the way the words speak--I know a poem is present when my
inner voice changes its timbre in just that way.

Tiffany, your description of the effect of the poems is so very
interesting to me, and rings true for me. That stripped to the core
minimalism is one of timbres of poetry's thinking, for me. Not the only
timbre, but one of them. "Is it intentional?" is harder to answer. For
me it's as if asking a Winesap apple tree whether or not making
Winesap apples and not golden delicious is intentional. Though that's
not a complete analogy, because of course the tree can't help it, and
only has one mode. I suppose what is intentional for me is the request
for a certain kind of concentration, from which poem-making becomes
possible; without it, I can't write at all. But which kind of poem will
then come, what voice it will speak in, whether it will be a more
extended meditation or a flashbulb-perception--that I have no control
over, I just take what comes. Sometimes, in revision, what comes will
be changed... One of the "pebbles" in the book is a single line
salvaged from a longer poem I wasn't happy with, so it ends up speaking
very differently than it did in its first arising. But that's a
separate question, isn't it?

(I will be offline now for the rest of the day--I'm going to read in
Palo Alto tonight and want to drive down early to be ahead of the
traffic. But I'll be back in, possibly late tonight, or else certainly
tomorrow morning. Thanks for the good invitations for thought so far,
all of you, especially Joe for getting us started, but everyone since
as well.)
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #29 of 103: C J Phillips, aka (cjp) Thu 23 Feb 06 18:25
For those who wish to hear Jane in person, here's a listing of
upcoming events:
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #30 of 103: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 23 Feb 06 21:27
Jane, you mention Ginsburg, who's also thought of as kind of a Zen
poet; have you met him? Is he any influence on you? How would you
compare and contrast?
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #31 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 24 Feb 06 08:28
(thanks, cjp--I'm about to update that with two new events, the LA Times
Book Festival, end of APril, and something in the Concord (MA) public
library in mid-May.).
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #32 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 24 Feb 06 08:32
Sharon, Ginsberg's presence in the poetry landscape I emerged into was
probably something like a mountain range or redwood forest: weather
changing, in ways almost impossible to know. But how to separate out what is
due him, and what is due his own major progenitors (Blake and Whitman) is
harder to say. I do know that one poem of mine was very directly influenced
by reading him, though I don't think anyone else could spot that. But "The
Stone of Heaven," which ends the book "The October Palace," was an expansion
of voice and possibility, that I know happened because I had just been
reading him, two days before.
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #33 of 103: gary (ggg) Fri 24 Feb 06 08:45
inkwell viewers may want to dip into dennis bernstein's inter view with jane
on 'flashpoints,' archived online (the monday, 2/20 show)
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #34 of 103: gary (ggg) Fri 24 Feb 06 09:26
Thanks for clarifying "voice," Jane -- the Duchamp urinal a delightfully
metaphor -- -- "timbre"is such a variable yet vital component ("variable"
'cos there's no fixed word for it: tone color, sound color, etc).  Vital in
pointing towards music; that in poetry which never  completely translates
into other languages (had any interesting experiences in that regard?) and
upon which the other elements (image, thought) depend so.   Si, si, si.

Evoking Emily's "After ... " invites as well the question, too, as to the
possible meanings of the (provocative, minimalist) title.  To
me, it suggests a person speaking after milestone life events, in a nation
after a defining moment; & as well, the nature of poetry, as you'd intimated
-- a kind of crystallization?

In my travels I happened to bump into a postcard, for After, which quotes a
poem (by Jane Hirshfield) entitled "After Long Silence":

"Words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."

Like the title, it's most suggestive:  seems to beckon, like a door:
half-closed, now half-open, towards an undefined borderzone ... between word
and thought.

(To me, thatUs like a reply to ... Ginzie, again: "First thought, best
thought."  Eh?)

inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #35 of 103: Sarah, again (bumbaugh) Fri 24 Feb 06 10:49


"All my formal training is in Zen; but the
true training of course is in life."

It is such a lovely truth that you have
said -- that life is a "formal training"
first and foremost --

Having spent much time with your
scholarship, I have been reading your poetry,
for the first time, and rejoice in it -- it
is exciting in its depth! especially those
empty places, much like Dickinson, where
only the heart can "hear" what is whispered

inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #36 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 24 Feb 06 21:55
(apologies for only having been able to respond once, earlier
today--it was my birthday... I'll be back tomorrow.)
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #37 of 103: David Bridger (david-bridger) Sat 25 Feb 06 03:58
Happy birthday!
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #38 of 103: Karolina (bumbaugh) Sat 25 Feb 06 04:57

from off-Well, we read:

Hello Jane,

With regards to the earlier conversation, the Heian period that you
mentioned is one of my favorite in the history of Japan and literature in
general. I love the appreciation of beauty (maybe because of so many
women writers allowed to express their thoughts?). Knowledge about this
period, along with my experience of how fragile life is, compels me to
glorify beauty wherever I see it. Yesterday's evening (your poetry
reading) was just one of such beautiful moments which I have written
about and have attached the poem to this message. It's written in
English, which is not my first language but which, I must confess, sounds
beautiful in poetry.

Warmest regards,
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #39 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 25 Feb 06 09:21
I think I'll first confess that I laughed, reading Gary's post,
because the very line of poetry he quoted from the postcard ("Words are
not the end of thought, they are where it begins.") is preceded in its
actual poem by a line that addresses his earlier comments--the poem
says "The untranslatable thought must be the most precise./Yet words
are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."

Translation is so interesting--so much comes across, but it can never
be exactly the same, can it? The precise music, the precise meaning
exist only in the original. Translation (as Octavio Paz memorably said)
is an attempt to evoke the same experience through different means.
Gary, as the Korean poet Ko Un's translator, do you yourself have a
story about some line that proved untranslatable?

In Japanese, as I was told by my co-translator Mariko Aratani during
our work on The Ink Dark Moon, the word "aware" [note--this is a
Japanese word, not the English one that it looks like] is so
multi-nuanced that it can be translated as anything from "delicious" or
"handsome" to "full of feeling" or "heartbreaking." Before working
with Mariko, I'd understood its core sense, which is close to meaning
something like our sense of "beautiful" if that were also hybridized
with the feeling of the the Latin phrase "lacrimae rerum" ("the tears
of things" or less literally, "the sorrow of existence"). I think that
somewhere in the appendix on translation in that book I may say that
"aware" could be translated as a sigh. The closest English word,
"poignant" is kind of a disaster for use in its place. So one does the
best one can, using many different words in different translations to
point toward  one which is so precise and yet also so wide that it
becomes truly an "untranslatable thought."
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #40 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 25 Feb 06 09:28
Sarah, thank you for posting Karolina's message--it sounds as if she
has also sent me a private email, which that is taken from? I loved
meeting her at the Palo Alto reading. (Now I must go search my bulk
mail, as there was no email from her in the regular mailbox.)

For those not privy, Karolina is a native Polish speaker--and we spoke
a little after the reading. When she speaks in the post, above, of the
way the fragility of life makes her want "to glorify beauty wherever I
see it," I think she evokes the reason that she and I, coming from two
different languages and different places and cultures, are each
thrilled by both the Heian women and the poems of the great Czeslaw
Milosz. A deep human impulse that I feel behind both is a wrestling
with the faces of suffering and transience and the ongoing beauty of
existence and the imperative to praise it. Surely this is one of
poetry's roles in human life, to help us navigate the paradoxical chasm
and connection here? Which also appears, immaculately, in Wallace
Stevens's line: "Death is the mother of beauty." 
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #41 of 103: Michael Gruber (mag) Sat 25 Feb 06 10:08
Jane, on the art of translation: do you have the sense that the
underlying structure of a language compels a certain world view?  I'm
thinking of the differences between analytic languages like Chinese,
inflecting languages like Latin or Russian, and agglutinative languages
like Finnish or Japanese.  (English, as a late-developing creole
language, is all over the map here, as it incorporates elements of all
three types.)  And what influence does the structure of a language have
on the kind of poetry people write in it.

This question popped into my mind when I read your translation of
aNeruda poem in the latest PEN journal, which is dedicated to
translation.  There was one untranslated poem by Neruda in there and
while I could puzzle out the meaning of the words, the Spanish poem had
no 'poetic' impact on me, although your translation and the other
English translations certainly did. I found this strange: I know what
the words 'mean' but no poetic zing.  What's up with that?
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #42 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sat 25 Feb 06 11:26
I do believe in what I first learned as the "Whorfian hypothesis"--the
linguist Benjamin Whorf's theory that a language's syntax governs a
culture's mental experience in a deep way. I've never thought of this
before, but in a way, isn't that a part of what poems themselves do,
within their home language? Set up a new syntax by which experience
unfolds in the mind, and so create new experiences partly by that very
aspect of how they speak? Poems don't always (though they do sometimes)
proceed in the "natural" order, the mind's usual forms of
thought-presentation. They digress, they use flashbacks and
forshadowing, they leap rather than plod, they make interconnections
that are musical, conceptual, and imagistic. All these modes of
meaning-making, meaning-saying, are integral to the experience the
finished poem calls forth in its reader (or writer).

Let me try to answer your actual question not by talking about
translation, about which I'm not in truth all that qualified to speak
(though I sometims do), being almost always a co-translator, but by
talking about writing my own. Rarely, but sometimes, in writing a new
poem, I have an "idea," but just as you put it, there is not any poetic
"zing," no bell-resonance that signals and embodies and enables
poetry's particular mode of making meaning. Then, during revision, I
must figure out how to bring that in--whether it's a matter of
re-musicing, tightening, reordering, finding a title that magnetizes
the poem, cutting, adding another outpost of image or language...  

How this happens, when it does in fact happen, I can't say. It's as
mysterious to me as the process by which that set of garbled letters
they put in the newspaper game leaps suddenly into a comprehensible
word. In other words, the real work is done almost entirely
unconsciously. What the conscious mind has supplied is the knowledge
that the experience of that first draft was not an adequate one, that
the ideas alone are not the poem.

So to return to your point, my guess would be that what you're
describing in looking at Ilan Stavans's Neruda book's excerpts is this:
if we try to read a poem in a language we're not very good in, the
mind is working so hard just to get the meaning that it can't also
experience the deeper gestures of poetry. 

I remember clearly one time I moved from one side of this divide to
the other. I was doing an all night crash-study of the Roman lyric
poets for an AP exam, senior year in high school. As I read Horace, I
suddenly fell into the poems. It was transformative. I'd really liked
his poetry before, but that night I could, for the first time, simply
read them-- I wasn't translating in my head, I was reading in Latin.
And the poems were spell-binding. I was in their world. When I looked
up again, it was 5 a.m., and I hadn't even looked yet at Catullus, let
alone at the comedies that comprised the other half of the exam.

Though I cannot read Latin anymore, I remain Horace's servant, with
all gratitude to his translators. (A personal favorite: Burton Raffel's
The Essential Horace, a North Point Press book now out of print.)  
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #43 of 103: Gary (ggg) Sat 25 Feb 06 17:53
    <scribbled by ggg Sun 26 Feb 06 05:34>
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #44 of 103: gary (ggg) Sun 26 Feb 06 06:12

 Ah, Horace!  I imagine your love of Horace makes you an avid gardener as
well ...:

Anyways, I was wondering (am still): has any or much of your work been
 translated?  (For example, After bears a quote about your work by none
other than Wislawa Szymborska; so your has been translated into Polish, I
guess.)  I am curious if any of the process might have been fun, if not
useful, insightful, etc.

Noir novels of my friend Jim Nisbett were published more widely in French
than in English for a while. Monsieur Poe wrote poetry that was then
translated by Mallarme (exquisitely).   (Readers of After might see this
leading, round-about, to another question.)

 Meanwhile, to answer *your* question: yes.  But I'd prefer to wait until I
am done with  the whole Ko Un project, in a couple months, before I debrief;
I'm still "inside it," as it were.   But I  first noticed the Whorfism, or
incongruence, or whatever, when being taught Hebrew, for bar- mitzva:
divergences from  the King James.  "In the beginning" is one word in Hebrew
("in-creation,"  more or less), without the sense of beginning (and thus
temporality, beforeness or ... after).  I remember the problem I caused when
I raised my hand and asked, "Why is this name for G-d in the feminine
plural?" (Oy!)

Subsequently encountered it in numerous insances as I translated poetry.
The French have  a word for a gravelly path up a hill, a part of their
landscape which can be metaphoric as well as literal, just as road and way
are, for which no english equivalent springs to mind.  Then in Chinese --
well, it is not just the words that sometimes require a box of footnotes: a
line of classical (regulated) poetry is really two: first a setting, in
which some subsequent event or image or thought is occuring - a different
distribution of forces within a single line, as unit,. So a different seeing
of the world.

& a dash of synchronicity is happening (or as we say on the Well, slippage)
with your mentioning the Japanese mode or mood called aware in <39>.  Aware,
yugen, wabi, sabi, etc. recently came up in discussing Japanese aesthetics
with a friend, who writes:

> In terms of aware, you're taking the train to work on a spring day, and as
> you stare out the window of your car on the Yamanote line you see a cherry
> tree with blossoms just past their prime.  You can see light shades of
> brown signaling the death of the blossom.  You're sad, of course, but not
> too sad because you know next year that tree's going to yield more
> blossoms.  You look forward to seeing those blossoms, but you're going to
> be a year older, a year slower, and a year wiser, hopefully, so it's not
> all bad news for you.

(Excuse me if I seem to hog yr inter view w/ all this; but it fascinates
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #45 of 103: Joe Flower (bbear) Sun 26 Feb 06 08:08
>Excuse me if I seem to hog yr interview

Not at all, Gary. This is an interview, and it is a conversation made 
richer by contributions like yours and <mag>'s and the other writers 
present. There are many good minds in the room.

I have, myself, wondered how Jane fares in translation - I understand 
she is one of the better-known poets in Poland, for instance. Yet often 
her work would seem untranslatable to me, even sometimes within the 
same language. She recently mentioned that a book of selected works went 
out in the UK under the title "Each Happiness Ringed By Lions," the 
title of a poem in "The Lives of the Heart." She was surprised to 
discover that, despite the clear, threatening implications of the poem, 
British readers tended to see the ring of lions as facing outward, 
protecting the happiness - a completely different image.
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #46 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 26 Feb 06 10:41
(I, too, want to welcome anyone who's here to bring in what they have
to offer on any of these subjects--one of the qualities of a regular
conversation in the rest of the Well, as opposed to what happens in
Inkwell.vue, is that great multiplicity of discussion and knowledge and
experience. As I've moved between the Writers Conference (where a
particularly interesting conversation is taking place right now) and
here, I've been aware of that difference of dimensionality. (Though the
other side of that is that here I'm participating much more, since it
is my agreed-to task to be here every day and answer everything I can.)

I'll move back to that answering in a new post.)
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #47 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 26 Feb 06 11:11
One thing about being translated is that of course you don't really
know what has happened in the process if you don't know the language at
all. It's a tremendous act of trust and faith and surrender of
control--and one thing in a poet's relationship to language is often a
fierce particularity about the language, about the exact words, sounds,
rhythms of the poems. 

(And as Joe just pointed out, even in one language, the same phrase
will raise different comprehensions in different readers' minds. It had
never occurred to me that lions might be seen as protective, and it's
not only British readers who sometimes think that: I discovered it
first when I was testing the title by asking American friends. Once
someone has read the poem, they know the lions are devouring ones--and
yet when I realized that as a free-standing title, the image could be
read both ways, I quite liked that. It was a potential richness I
hadn't known was in the phrase, yet adds to it, rather than detracts,
when it's met out of context. It turns the title into a Rorscharch
test, of a kind, or one of those images which is sometimes seen as a
vase, sometimes as two facing profiles. I've always liked titles that
pull in more than one direction. Most of life does that as well, as
Gary's friend's description of seeing aging cherry blossoms so clearly

What I know of how my work goes in translation is limited, but
interesting. I know that the selected poems published in Poland was on
the Krakow newspaper's bestseller list, at #4, in 2002, following three
books about the Pope (who was visiting that week). Whether that makes
me one of the better-known poets in Poland I can't know, I doubt, but
can't really know. A person doesn't really know how well she's known
even in this country--among some readers, very, among others, perhaps a
vaguely recognized name. What I can know is that for Wislawa
Szymborska to know and praise my work, and for Czeslaw Milosz to have
done so, is one of the great unexpected things in this path of poems.
How unlikely. How amazing. 

As for what happens to my poems in translation, I have been asked
certain questions by my translators that reveal. For the Polish book,
there is in the English-language poem an image of "baleen'd plankton."
The email that came from Poland said, "We have no whales in Poland.
What would you like me to do?" It's a compressed enough idea even in
English to make the mind have to work, and we agreed that using the
scientific terms (I first said, "Hasn't Moby Dick been translated?")
wasn't a good option. I ended up saying, "please make it any small
green thing in the act of being eaten, but do make it sound good." I've
never asked her what she did. I don't really want to know.

Similarly, the very title of my selected poems in Polish (a title I
didn't choose, the publisher did) is, it seems, some
untranslatable-into-English word. It is, I was told, slightly archaic,
a word not colloquially used. It has something to do with awareness,
attention, awakeness. It might be a bit like the English and French
"attention"--a word that could be read both as noun and verb. I have no
idea how it sounds/feels in Polish, though it doesn't sound to me like
a title I'd have given the book on my own. Nor did I even choose the
included poems--the translator picked poems she wanted to, and felt she
could, translate--which is how it must be. 

I once had a handful of poems translated into Russian. There is a line
at the end of one of the poems, "The Envoy": "long legged and thirsty,
covered with foreign dust." Long-legged, my translator said, is in
Russian a kind of symbolic attribute for Americans, surely something I
did not intend. Might she substitute "spindly-legged"? And "thirsty"
she said there was no single word for (almost inconceivable to me), so
might she write "their sides drawn in with thirst"? And "foreign" had
two possible words, the one with the connotation of "distant, alien"
and the one with the connotation of "invading barbarian". Which might I

Dust was apparently ok.

In the end I agreed to whatever she thought best, in each case asking
plaintively, "Does it sound good?"
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #48 of 103: Brian Dear (brian) Sun 26 Feb 06 12:46
    <scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:15>
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #49 of 103: Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Feb 06 13:17

I'm fascinated by your description of the translation of your poems, Jane.
(I immediately saw the ring of lions as a threat). When your poems appear in
other English-speaking countries, do you get queries from your editors. I
have had quite of bit of this happen when my novels are published in the
United Kingdom ("sidewalk", for example, becomes "pavement.").

I think the differences between slightly different versions of the same
language are even more important when it comes to poetry.
inkwell.vue.266 : Jane Hirshfield, "After"
permalink #50 of 103: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 26 Feb 06 13:18
That's pretty funny. Poetry chick is not something I'm aware of having
been called before. (Did they notice that for one event I posted a
photo of a neighbor's cat?)
Meanwhile, for people who don't know what this is... Brian's a
longtime member of the Well who started an online events calendar-- -- to announce or to look for any kind of event. It's
been enormously helpful to me  (I don't keep my own web page or any
kind of a formal mailing list) to have a place to send people to look
when they ask me where I might be reading or teaching. So, publicly
here: my thanks to Brian, for starting this up, and I wish it long life
and success.


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