"Life has to have the plenitude of art," Edward Hirsch affirms in his fifth volume of poems, On Love, which further establishes him as a major artist. From its opening epigraph by Thomas Hardy and an initiating prayer for transformation, On Love takes up the subjects of separateness and fusion, autonomy and blur. The initial progression of fifteen shapely and passionate lyrics (including a sonnet about the poet at seven, a villanelle about the loneliness of a pioneer woman on the prairie, and an elegy for Amy Clampitt) opens out into a sequence of meditations about love. These arresting love poems are spoken by a gallery of historical figures from Denis Diderot, Heinrich Heine, Charles Baudelaire, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Gertrude Stein, Federico Garcia Lorca, Zora Neale Hurston, and Colette. Each anatomizes a different aspect of eros in poems uttered by a chorus of historical authorities that is also a lone lover's yearning voice. Personal, literary, On Love offers the most formally adept and moving poetry by the author Harold Bloom hails as utterly fresh, canonical, and necessary.
Hirsch writes a controlled, precise, formally ambitious verse reminiscent of the new critical concoctions of a young Richard Wilbur or Anthony Hecht. Reading this fifth collection (which follows 1994's Earthly Measures), one is always aware of a formidable intelligence, wide reading, and an ambition to connect the poet's own achievement with the great poetry of the past. The defects of Hirsch's style, however, are brought out equally clearly by his decision to focus nearly every poem on the title theme, a subject that demands at least as much passion as craft. The poems in the first section of the book are personal, their main themes being the poet's childhood, his Jewishness, and his marriage. Here Hirsch sees love as a longing for transcendence: "Touching your body/ I was like a rabbi poring/ over a treatise on ecstasy, the message hidden in the scrolls." In the second half, a sequence that provides the book's title, Hirsch is impersonal: each poem addresses the subject of love in the voice of a famous writerAStein, Lawrence and Wilde, among others. It is a highly artificial premise, made more so by the incredibly strict forms: the poems are mainly modified sestinas, in which words are often rhymed with themselves (often to the detriment of both sense and rhythm). Unfortunately, these poems are too much pastiche and puppet show; Hirsch doesn't inhabit his speakers so much as employ the most basic clich?s about them. Thus in "Bertolt Brecht," we encounter the phrases "free love," "Karl Marx," and "means of production"; in "Denis Diderot," we find "Rational Will," "encyclopedia," and "enlightening." Hirsch's conceit is an interesting one, familiar from his other books (including the NBCC Award-winning Wild Gratitude), but here it fails to get beyond the level of mere device.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 24, 2000
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from On Love by Edward Hirsch
"Colette" My mother used to say, "Sit down, dear, and don't cry. The worst thing for a woman is her first man--the one who kills you. After that, marriage becomes a long career." Poor Sido! She never had another career and she knew first-hand how love ruins you. The seducer doesn't care about his woman, even as he whispers endearments in her ear. Never let anyone destroy your inner spirit. Among all the forms of truly absurd courage the recklessness of young girls is outstanding. Otherwise there would be far fewer marriages and even fewer affairs that overwhelm marriages. Look at me: it's amazing I'm still standing after what I went through with ridiculous courage. I was made to suffer, but no one broke my spirit. Every woman wants her adventure to be a feast of ripening cherries and peaches, Marseilles figs, hot-house grapes, champagne shuddering in crystal. Happiness, we believe, is on sumptuous display. But unhappiness writes a different kind of play. The gypsy gazes down into a clear blue crystal and sees rotten cherries and withered figs. Trust me: loneliness, too, can be a feast. Ardor is delicious, but keep your own room. One of my husbands said: is it impossible for you to write a book that isn't about love, adultery, semi-incestuous relations, separation? (Of course, this was before our own separation.) He never understood the natural law of love, the arc from the possible to the impossible... I have extolled the tragedy of the bedroom. We need exact descriptions of the first passion, so pay attention to whatever happens to you. Observe everything: love is greedy and forgetful. By all means fling yourself wildly into life (though sometimes you will be flung back by life) but don't let experience make you forgetful and be surprised by everything that happens to you. We are creative creatures fuelled by passion. One final thought about the nature of love. Freedom should be the first condition of love and work is liberating (a novel about love cannot be written while you are making love). Never underestimate the mysteries of love, the eminent dignity of not talking about love. Passionate attention is prayer, prayer is love. Savor the world. Consume the feast with love. "Two (Scholarly) Love Poems" I Dead Sea Scrolls I was like the words on a papyrus apocryphon buried in a cave at Qumran, and you were the scholar I had been waiting for all my life, the one reader who unravelled the scrolls and understood the language and deciphered its mysteries. 2