The Promise

September 19, 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. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

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,

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Jane Hirshfield, from her most recent book of poems, Come, Thief, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Jane Hirshfield and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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  1. Very nice. This is a lesson hard for most of us to learn. If we did, it would mean more peace and serenity for us. Thanks for posting the poem.

  2. Always a delight to see what poetry you pull up. It isn't something that I'm that familiar with, although my mom likes to write her own. Interesting for me to read this one - I'm not that comfortable with change and find myself wishing for things to s t a y ..... but they don't.

  3. Thank you, Claire. I'm the same way--I'm not very comfortable with change, but change happens! By the way, the picture of the wilting flowers was taken in the cemetery when we were in NOLA!