Book Seven: Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, edited by Jane Hirshfield



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)

3 comments on “Book Seven: Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, edited by Jane Hirshfield”

  1. The poem you shared is lovely. I thought the book title sounded familiar. When I saw the picture of the book, I realized it’s on my bookshelf. I got it when it first came out. I will definitely dust it off and do some reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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