Jane Hirshfield’s Ode to Optimism and Resilience

“Poetry itself is an instrument of resilience,” Jane Hirshfield wrote more than a decade ago when referring to her poem ‘Optimism‘ for the Washington Post. Poetry, she continues, reflects “life’s continuing embrace of its own implausible, risky existence.” A residential Zen student of many years, Jane Hirshfield’s work embodies a continuing sense of wonder and a willingness to take each situation as a creative cue: “Both poetry and life take whatever challenge comes — painful or joyous — as a lattice for invention, a chance to increase possibility, variety, beauty, warmth, endurance.”  The kind of resilience she pays homage to in this poem is that of the tree that turns itself to find sunlight away from the competitive realm of its neighbor’s domain.


More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Jane Hirshfield
From: Given Sugar, Given Salt

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