Ten Windows

How Great Poems Transform the World

Look inside
A dazzling collection of essays on how the best poems work, from the master poet and popular essayist

“Poetry,” Jane Hirshfield has said, “is language that foments revolutions of being.” In ten eloquent and highly original explorations, she unfolds some of the ways this is done—by the inclusion of hiddenness, paradox, and surprise; by a perennial awareness of the place of uncertainty in our lives; by language's own acts of discovery; by the powers of image, statement, music, and feeling to enlarge in every direction. Closely reading poems by Dickinson, Bashō, Szymborska, Cavafy, Heaney, Bishop, and Komunyakaa, among others, Hirshfield reveals how poetry's world-making takes place: word by charged word. By expanding what is imaginable and sayable, Hirshfield proposes, poems expand what is possible. Ten Windows restores us at every turn to a more precise, sensuous, and deepened experience of our shared humanity and of the seemingly limitless means by which that knowledge is both summoned and forged.


“Probing and insightful . . . deeply illuminating. . . .This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
 
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers. . . . Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books

“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry. . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work. . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review

"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s ‘musical shapeliness,’ ‘creative intention,’ embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound ‘unlatching.’ She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry ‘counters isolation and meaninglessness.’ The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
© Curt Richter
Writing “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of ten collections and is one of American poetry's central spokespersons for concerns of the biosphere. Hirshfield's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and finalist selection for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She’s also the author of two now-classic collections of essays on the craft of poetry, and edited and co-translated four books presenting world poets from the deep past. Hirshfield's work, which has been translated into seventeen languages, appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and ten editions of The Best American Poetry. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019. View titles by Jane Hirshfield
Preface
 
Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us—more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.
 
This book continues the investigation begun in an earlier volume, “Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry”. The questions pursued by poems themselves are speckled, partial, and infinite. These books, though, pursue as well a single question: How do poems—how does art—work? Under that question, inevitably, is another: How do we? Inside the intricate clockworks of language and music, event and life, what allows and invites us to feel and know as we do, and then increase our feeling and knowing? Such a question cannot be answered. “We” are different, from one another and, moment by moment, from even ourselves. “Art,” too, is a word deceptively single of surface. Still, following this question for thirty years has given me pleasure, and some sense of approaching more nearly a destination whose center cannot ever be mapped or reached.
 
Excerpted from Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Probing and insightful…deeply illuminating…This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
 
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers...Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books

“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry . . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work  . . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review

"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s “musical shapeliness,” “creative intention,” embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound “unlatching.” She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry “counters isolation and meaninglessness.” The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

About

A dazzling collection of essays on how the best poems work, from the master poet and popular essayist

“Poetry,” Jane Hirshfield has said, “is language that foments revolutions of being.” In ten eloquent and highly original explorations, she unfolds some of the ways this is done—by the inclusion of hiddenness, paradox, and surprise; by a perennial awareness of the place of uncertainty in our lives; by language's own acts of discovery; by the powers of image, statement, music, and feeling to enlarge in every direction. Closely reading poems by Dickinson, Bashō, Szymborska, Cavafy, Heaney, Bishop, and Komunyakaa, among others, Hirshfield reveals how poetry's world-making takes place: word by charged word. By expanding what is imaginable and sayable, Hirshfield proposes, poems expand what is possible. Ten Windows restores us at every turn to a more precise, sensuous, and deepened experience of our shared humanity and of the seemingly limitless means by which that knowledge is both summoned and forged.


“Probing and insightful . . . deeply illuminating. . . .This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
 
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers. . . . Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books

“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry. . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work. . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review

"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s ‘musical shapeliness,’ ‘creative intention,’ embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound ‘unlatching.’ She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry ‘counters isolation and meaninglessness.’ The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

Author

© Curt Richter
Writing “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of ten collections and is one of American poetry's central spokespersons for concerns of the biosphere. Hirshfield's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and finalist selection for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She’s also the author of two now-classic collections of essays on the craft of poetry, and edited and co-translated four books presenting world poets from the deep past. Hirshfield's work, which has been translated into seventeen languages, appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and ten editions of The Best American Poetry. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2019. View titles by Jane Hirshfield

Excerpt

Preface
 
Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us—more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.
 
This book continues the investigation begun in an earlier volume, “Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry”. The questions pursued by poems themselves are speckled, partial, and infinite. These books, though, pursue as well a single question: How do poems—how does art—work? Under that question, inevitably, is another: How do we? Inside the intricate clockworks of language and music, event and life, what allows and invites us to feel and know as we do, and then increase our feeling and knowing? Such a question cannot be answered. “We” are different, from one another and, moment by moment, from even ourselves. “Art,” too, is a word deceptively single of surface. Still, following this question for thirty years has given me pleasure, and some sense of approaching more nearly a destination whose center cannot ever be mapped or reached.
 
Excerpted from Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Praise

“Probing and insightful…deeply illuminating…This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
 
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers...Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books

“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry . . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work  . . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review

"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s “musical shapeliness,” “creative intention,” embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound “unlatching.” She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry “counters isolation and meaninglessness.” The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

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