Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘My Life Was the Size of My Life,’ by Jane Hirshfield


My Life Was the Size of My Life

My life was the size of my life.
Its rooms were room-sized,
its soul was the size of a soul.
In its background, mitochondria hummed,
above it sun, clouds, snow,
the transit of stars and planets.
It rode elevators, bullet trains,
various airplanes, a donkey.
It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.
It ate, it slept, it opened
and closed its hands, its windows.
Others, I know, had lives larger.
Others, I know, had lives shorter.
The depth of lives, too, is different.
There were times my life and I made jokes together.
There were times we made bread.
Once, I grew moody and distant.
I told my life I would like some time,
I would like to try seeing others.
In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned.
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off       our clothes on   
our tongues from


First appeared in The New Yorker. From The Beauty (NY: Knopf, 2015) by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Jane Hirshfield book cover_The Beauty_3-19-15Order The Beauty at and help support Women’s Voices’ non-profit mission. 


Jane Hirshfield_Ten Windows Cover_3-22-16Order Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World at and help support Women’s Voices’ non-profit mission. 


Jane Hirshfield_3-19-16

Photo Credit: Nick Rozsa

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, 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 is 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. Visit the poet’s website here.


Poet’s Notes:

Some poems take a little detective work on the reader’s part to figure out. This poem is looking at exactly what it appears to be looking at: the shape and course of a life, its strangeness, its meandering, its individual singularity and also its embeddedness in the shared and larger life of others, of culture, era, and planet. At the time I wrote “My Life Was the Size of My Life,” I had begun to feel more keenly the way that my personal story had to some degree taken its shape and arc. Things might still come to surprise me—the unexpected is inevitable in any day—but many choices have been written in indelible ink. Still, do not let the past tense here mislead—what is said in a poem is always this moment’s experience. Hunger and Eros are lifelong companions. Our lives seduce us back into the living through of them. The world seduces us back into the world.



Notes on “My Life Was the Size of My Life

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Welcome to National Poetry Month! I’m thrilled to open this month’s columns with a poem by Jane Hirshfield, a poet-scholar-ambassador loved and admired here in California, throughout the United States, and all over the world. Hirshfield has been my hero since I first read her books when I returned to poetry after a 35-year hiatus in 2007. I heard her read at a concert of her work set to music performed by the Mill Valley Orchestra, and again at the annual Bread Loaf conference in Vermont, an experience made unforgettable by the near-magical leaping up of sparks and flames in the stone fireplace at the apex moment of one of Hirshfield’s powerful poems.  

Hirshfield published two remarkable books in 2015: a collection of poems called The Beauty that this week’s poem is drawn from, and also a collection of essays called Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf 2015). You can listen to her reading from both books here (Book Passage, 3/27/15) and  here (Commonweal Reading at the New School, 7/10/15).

Read More »

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Nkechi April 4, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I am so glad you open it up with one of my favorite people too. Jane is a beauty to behold especially how she sees poetry. Secondly, I love the comfort that this blog brings. Often good blog is good for change and poetry. I have to ask, Can you make a space where I can share my poetry and get it up to where everyone will be inclusive. I will love to hear from you. Or how can I contribute if it is possible. Thanks

  • Susan Aizenberg April 4, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Hi, Rebecca Foust — I enjoy your weekly poetry posts very much — in fact, they’re the primary reason I subscribe to this newsletter. Thanks!