A Poem for the Week

“Only words that enlarge the realm of the possible merit borrowing our attention from the world of the actual and the living: they will return us to it restored to the knowledge of a malleability and amplitude we may have forgotten,” Jane Hirshfield explains in her collection of essays called Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (2015).

This week’s poem comes from Hirshfield herself and embodies this expansion of “the realm of the possible.” In just seven lines, the poet moves us from the simple sentence “More and more I have come to admire resilience,” to all that “arose” from such resilience, “all this resinous, unretractable earth.”

Optimism by Jane Hirshfield
More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns to another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers
mitochondria, figs–all this resinous, unretractable earth.

from Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001)

In this San Diego season of mixed rain and sun and so much “sinuous tenacity,” I was reminded of Dylan Thomas’s line from his poem of the same title: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” and how that persistence creates such beauty and motion in the natural world and in us. As the wild nasturtiums take over the backyard to welcome another vernal equinox this month, I’m relishing “resilience,” “sinuous tenacity,” “persistence,” and, of course, “optimism.”

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