The Asking: New and Selected Poems
The long-awaited new and selected collection by the author of “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), assaying the ranges of our shared and borrowed lives: our bonds of eros and responsibilities to the planet; the singing dictions and searchlight dimensions of perception; the willing plunge into an existence both perishing and beloved, dazzling “even now, even here”
In an era of algorithm, assertion, silo, and induced distraction, Jane Hirshfield’s poems bring a much-needed awakening response, actively countering narrowness. The Asking takes its title from the close of one of its thirty-one new poems: “don’t despair of this falling world, not yet / didn’t it give you the asking.” Interrogating language and life, pondering beauty amid bewilderment and transcendence amid transience, Hirshfield offers a signature investigation of the conditions, contradictions, uncertainties, and astonishments that shape our existence. A leading advocate for the biosphere and the alliance of science and imagination, she brings to both inner and outer quandaries an abiding compass: the choice to embrace what is, to face with courage, curiosity, and a sense of kinship whatever comes.
In poems that consider the smallest ant and the vastness of time, hunger and bounty, physics, war, and love in myriad forms, this collection—drawing from nine previous books and five decades of writing—brings the insights and slant-lights that come to us only through poetry’s arc, delve, and tact; through a vision both close and sweeping; through music-inflected thought and recombinant leap.
With its quietly magnifying brushwork and numinous clarities, The Asking expands our awareness of both breakage’s grief and the possibility for repair.
Praise for The Asking: New and Selected Poems
“Among the most distinguished living poets in the English language, Jane Hirshfield is best known for finding the profound in the mundane, the mystical (but never supernatural) in the materiality of existence—an open-hearted relationship to the large and small . . . All with the clarity of sun on snowmelt." —Wen Stephenson, The Nation
“For half a century, Jane Hirshfield has been slaking the world’s soul on poems of perspective and consolation, fusing her Buddhist training, her passion for science, and her tenderness for all things living. The Asking collects some of her best work . . . poems that that achieve the most difficult and paradoxical of triumphs for a work of art: to remind us who and what we are, while at the same time furnishing what Iris Murdoch called 'an occasion for unselfing'.” —Maria Popova, The Marginalian, "Favorite Books of 2023"
“Jane Hirshfield has given us a body of work that is like no other in its ability to take a short lyric and fill it to the brim with passion and clarity of perspective, with precision and openness to the unknown. She is one of the few contemporaries whose work has already commanded a devoted readership for many years—and, without any doubt, for many more years to come. We are in the presence here of something extraordinary: a voice that feels as timeless as it is very much of this moment.″ —Ilya Kaminsky, McSweeney's
“[Hirshfield's] celebration of minute details brings readers into a space of awareness that continues even after our eyes leave the page. Hirshfield writes in awe of the world, of science and of imagination, and she threads her ideas together with a specificity and power of observation that demands our attention.” —Freya Sachs, BookPage
“Hirshfield is our poet of wonder and compassion. . . . [The Asking] represents a lifetime of vocation . . . attentive to life’s vicissitudes and the task of creating meaning through our lives without sure answers to ultimate questions.” —Spirituality and Practice
“If bigness is a measure of poetry, or radius of impact let’s say, then Jane Hirshfield easily ranks among the giants. . . . Hirshfield’s poems permeate our lives: they bless our weddings, show us why we must equate love with grief, they speak our own mythology and that of the Greeks’, they remind us to turn to the pleasures of skies, rivers and mountains while encouraging venture for the sake of venturing, and show us if we are open to it, how to greet the mystery of the self. . . . [Her poems'] meditative and tranquil qualities carry the body and heart. This volume is a gift.” —Debbra Palmer, New York Journal of Books
“Hirshfield’s mindfully measured poems, inquiries into the mysteries and fundamentals of being alive, of being human, are essential works . . . her lyrics are lushly observed and deeply questioning as well as nimble, imaginative, witty, and poignant . . . Her profound attunement to life's interconnectivity inspires her incisive dismay over our roughshod decimation of the great living web that sustains us. Hirshfield’s exquisitely formed, intricate reckonings incandesce in this necessary collection.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)