Jun 28 2013

Jane Hirshfield – Metempsychosis

Published by at 8:39 am under Poetry

Metempsychosis
by Jane Hirshfield

Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off –
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.

— from Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield


/ Photo by amslerPIX /

The title first: Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the psyche or the soul. It can be a synonym for reincarnation, though metempsychosis often implies the notion of re-embodiment in any form, not just another human body. It is the transference of self.

And this poem seems to consider this idea from several different angles.

Stories and trees.

To look at a tree, to really encounter it as a living being, as a living expression of awareness, something profound happens in us: we encounter something of ourselves in that tree.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

The boundary between human and tree falls away, and the sense of self flows between the two. And there is a supreme sweetness in this recognition of shared being with the world around us.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Isn’t this a wonderful image? The bees of self. We tend to think of the self as a single, solid thing, a body of sorts. But here we have the image of the self as cluster that escapes and scatters and spreads out into the world, hungry to experience the offered life all around it, so confident in itself that even barbs and stings hold their own sweetness. In Hirshfield’s metempsychosis, we don’t step from body A to body B; we pour out and taste all the world around us.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off –
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

When we step out of our own story, when learn to connect, when we learn to become, we find everything has its song. Everything is speaking always. The world rings with being.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

Walking trees… Some types of jungle trees grow from stilted, raised roots. It is said that, over time, they actually “walk” by growing new roots in one direction, while allowing the old roots to wither.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration…

What is most fascinating to me is the poet’s assertion that she would like her skin to be a highway for ants and beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.

There may still be a self-protective, self-defining sense of self that reflexively hesitates, but yet she yearns to feel the many marching trails of life merging, the great slow pathways of walking trees, and the minute busy paths of ants upon the tree.

And every one of those roads is part of the journeying self.

To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.






Jane Hirshfield, Jane Hirshfield poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jane Hirshfield

US (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

More poetry by Jane Hirshfield

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Jane Hirshfield – Metempsychosis”

  1. Erin Won 28 Jun 2013 at 12:01 pm

    How perfect! I am in the logistical planning stages for a dream held close to my heart for years– to walk 500 miles, the length of my state, for a cause– and I was trying to figure out how to describe why everything in my being calls to drop out of my mundane life to do this. Then this poem! Walking, soul transmigration to the natural world around me, it’s all connected. Thank you.

  2. Davidon 28 Jun 2013 at 12:40 pm

    both poem and comments were perfect! I’m finding that often the commentary reflects much more than I might “get” by only reading the poem….I really appreciate a great many of the choices made in offering poetry to the readers and likewise appreciate the commentary…your explanations are totally welcomed!

  3. Manion 28 Jun 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Beautiful poem, reading it early hours of quiet winter morning, makes it more profound, clearer, touch the core of our being. Thank you for the explanation you always provide, and what a beautiful ancient venerable tree.

  4. marrobon 28 Jun 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Yes, I agree with previous comments that your explanations add depth to the
    images in this poem which are, I feel, enchanting.

    I also like the very sounds of it: words like ‘nettles’, ‘thistle’, ‘stilted
    transmigration’ gain by being read aloud and echo, somehow, beyond the
    meanings.

    I’ve just re-seen ‘Dead Poets Society’ which, as a former teacher, I always enjoy.
    I wish that brilliant director, Peter Weir, would make a sequel and have a character, girl this time,
    read this poem aloud, round the fire at the cave at midnight. I’d set it in Borneo!

  5. bob knabon 28 Jun 2013 at 10:38 pm

    greetings –
    and
    transmigration !!!

    It occurred
    2 me
    i wood knot
    want to bee
    transmigrated
    as a frog -

    For if a heavy
    foot, me broke
    i could only
    croak and croak

    blessings ——————- enjoy your page

  6. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 29 Jun 2013 at 8:11 am

    Today I liked your comment best, Ivan. I often experience the flow of relating is broken by too quick a response to another’s story with the telling of one’s own story So your insight fits so well:

    “when we learn to connect, when we learn to become, we find everything has its song. Everything is speaking always. The world rings with being.”

    thanks for the insight.

  7. rosellen littleon 29 Jun 2013 at 8:26 am

    thanks for this most incredible poem and photo of the trees.

  8. John Siregaron 30 Jun 2013 at 4:08 pm

    What a beautiful piece of poem, very deep, strong with very broad spectrum. I enjoy very much reading this one. Thank you Jane. All the best, John Siregar