So, this book was another gift ~~ this time from my husband, Chris. He knows that I love poetry, and that I also spend quite a bit of time in spiritual study and practice. So, what a perfect combination in this book. And then, to realize it was edited by Jane Hirshfield was an unexpected bonus!
The book is laid out chronologically. Each poet is introduced with a short bio of her time and place in history, followed by one or several of her poems. The earliest poem comes from 2300 B.C.E. from the poet Enheduanna who, according to the bio in this book was “the earliest identified author of either sex in world literature.” From there, we travel all across the globe, and through many demographics and spiritual traditions. Some poems go on for pages, while others are a short line or two- most fall somewhere in between. There are poems rooted in mythology, religion, nature and mysticism; and the familiar voices of Emily Dickinson and H.D. are beautifully represented.
Jane Hirshfied’s interest in sharing this collection stems from her desire to show that spiritual experience does not discriminate based on gender. Just because we have heard predominantly through the voices of men, this does not diminish the connections that women have also made with the sacred. Through the sharing of this poetry, the female voice is celebrated.
Reading this book, I felt like I was receiving a history lesson in addition to the lovely rhythm and cadence of the poetry. So deep and rich, full of vivid concepts and imagery, it was an abundant reading experience.
In honor of our summer of reading challenge coming to a conclusion, I share with you all this poem from the book:
Summer Garden, by Anna Akhmatova
I want to visit the roses
In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In that fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarkoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely
Double. And a hundred thousand steps,
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades
Between granite vase and palace door.
There my white nights
Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted
And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper,
But the light’s source is a secret.
(1959, July, Leningrad)
(translated by D.M. Thomas)