21 Days/21 Poems: This Was Once a Love Poem by Jane Hirshfield

The theme for today’s 21 Days/21 Poems is love.

There are so many love poems.  I think love and death are the most talked about subject in poetry.  I had a really hard time choosing one for today.  I’ve spent a bit of time reading over iconic love poems by Shakespeare, Barrett Browning, Hopkins and those written some of my favorite poets, such as St. Vincent Millay, Jackie Kay, Yeats, Auden etc.  So I decided to have fun with the idea of a love poem.  Enjoy.

This Was Once a Love Poem

This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

IT spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

by Jane Hirshfield

Source: Poets.org

One might be tempted, when reading this poem, to substitute “she” or “he” for the pronoun “it”.  Personalize the poem, so that it reads like a person talking about their lost love.  But what if the poem really used to be a love poem?  What if it has undergone some extensive transformation?  In fact, it has changed. So, what is it now?

Jane Hirshfield (born 1953) is an American poet.



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