Poetry Sunday: “Let Them Not Say,” by Jane Hirshfield


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.


Copyright © 2017 by Jane Hirshfield. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.


Jane Hirshfield’s poems have been described as “radiant and passionate” in The New York Times Book Review, “magnificent and distinctive” by The Irish Times, and “among the pantheon of the modern masters of simplicity” in The Washington Post. Her most recent and eighth book of poetry, The Beauty (Knopf 2015), was long listed for the National Book Award and named a best book of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Independent Review of Books. Her new book of essays is Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf 2015). Hirshfield’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Endowment for the Arts; the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry; and eight selections in The Best American Poetry. Her work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Poetry, and elsewhere. Hirshfield was the 2016 Mohr Visiting Poet at Stanford University and a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Website here. Order The Beauty here. Order Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World here. (Author Photo: Nick Rozsa)

Join the conversation

  • Jan Hersh June 13, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    I am so glad I didn’t miss this and am sharing it with my friends on Facebook.

  • Woody Winfree June 5, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    New to your offerings. Thank you for your work.

    • janis fleming June 11, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      Absolutely love the quiet, powerful language and feeling of this poem. Thank you.

  • Jennifer Dorner June 5, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thank you for this insightful article and story of the impact of this poem. I appreciate your comments about universality and Hirshfield’s timelessness. Could the reference to Ann Pancake’s essay be more specific? I would love to look that up. Thank you! — Jennifer