Jane Hirshfield, “Sonoma Fire”

Sonoma Fire (from Poetry)
Jane Hirshfield

Large moon the deep orange of embers.
Also the scent.
The griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance.


Hirshfield’s own comment about this poem is well worth your time

We start with “Sonoma Fire,” which is like a kigo. It gives us a time and place, establishes a season we are in. To gather any more information requires details.

At first, those details overwhelm our vision. The moon has been transformed, another world has been made another color by ours. We are held in awe by nature’s power, by the relentlessness we are a part of. It’s like we’re the sun; some people talk about how life-affirming and thrilling combat can be.

Then a detail gets a bit closer, breaching the distance held by sight. We do not talk much about the scent. Suffice to say it forces an intimacy we may not want.

Finally, we react. We say something and hear ourselves. The last statement, “the griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance,” is just a reaction. It may mark our dependence on tragedy, as we take the sufferings of others, make them art, and still keep our distance from the actual griefs. It may mark our blindness. A number of stars in the night sky have already died, and their light is only reaching us now. Beauty is only a start. Like it or not, we’re human, and that condition approaches one way or another.

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