‘O Snail’ And Other Poems From Jane Hirshfield

Poet Jane Hirshfield writes prose about humanity and our planet while pondering the crises of refugees, justice, and climate in her new book of poems.

The following is an excerpt from Ledger by Jane Hirshfield.

O Snail

Under the Svalbard ice cap, Carboniferous-era coal seams.
A good farmer rotates her crops.
The crops don’t complain. It’s the fate of stalks and forests to vanish.
Last year’s fires: Australia, Portugal, Greece. This: California.

O snail, wrote Issa, climb Fuji slowly, slowly.

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Let Them Not Say

Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something:

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.


It begins subtly:
the maple
withdraws an inch from the birch tree.

The porcupine
wants nothing to do with the skink.

Fish unschool,
sheep unflock to separately graze.

Clouds meanwhile
declare to the sky
they have nothing to do with the sky,
which is not visible as they are,

nor knows the trick of turning
into infant, tumbling pterodactyls.

The turtles and moonlight?
Their long arrangement is over.

As for the humans.
Let us not speak of the humans.
Let us speak of their language.

The first-person singular
condemns the second-person plural
for betrayals neither has words left to name.

The fed consider the hungry
and stay silent.


Most of us hungry at daybreak, sleepy by dark.
Some slept, one eye open, in water.
Some could trot.
Some of us lived till morning. Some did not.

Excerpted from Ledger by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2020 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Writer

About Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is a poet, essayist, and translator. She is the author of “Ledger” (Knopf, 2020) and nine other books of poetry. She’s based in San Francisco, California.

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