The Task

by Jane Hirshfield

Original Language English

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.
We wake into it daily -- open eyes, braid hair --
a robe unfurled
in rose-silk flowering, then laid bare.

And yes, it is a simple enough task
we've taken on,
though also vast:
from dusk to dawn,

from dawn to dusk, to praise, and not
be blinded by the praising.
To lie like a cat in hot
sun, fur fully blazing,

and dream the mouse;
and to keep too the mouse's patient, waking watch
within the deep rooms of the house,
where the leaf-flocked

sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.

-- from The October Palace: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I just recently rediscovered this poem by Jane Hirshfield.

Some of her phrases just grab hold of you--

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.


And yes, it is a simple enough task
we've taken on,
though also vast

This poem seems to me to be an exploration of the way we awaken each morning to the day, and to the world. It's a simple enough action; we do it every day, day after day, seemingly without effort or thought. Yet, it is also an immense undertaking each morning: We emerge from a land of rest and sleep and the fluid reality of dreams, we stretch, and rise into the immense reality of the shared tangible world. We step from one immense reality and step into a new immense reality. Simple, right?

What is she suggesting with her imagery of cat and mouse? This is just my reading of it, but knowing Jane Hirshfield to be a Buddhist practitioner, I suspect she is saying something about meditation and mind. Perhaps the meditator's mind is like the cat; it must come to still rest within the luminosity of consciousness. Then perhaps it can dream the mouse.

And the mouse is that hidden, hard-to-find deep mind, nestled safely in the secret corners of the house. The sunlight of daily consciousness may not reach there, but still awareness sees, and life blooms.

What do you think? Do you read it a different way?

Recommended Books: Jane Hirshfield

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems The Lives of the Heart: Poems The October Palace: Poems Of Gravity & Angels
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The Task