"Words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins," ends the first poem in After, Jane Hirshfield’s extended investigation into incarnation, transience, and our intimate connection with others and with all existence. These alert, incisive, and compassionate poems examine the human condition through subjects ranging from spareness, possibility, judgment, and hidden grief to global warming, insomnia, the meanings to be found in generally over-looked parts of speech, and the metaphysics of sneezing. In respective series of "assays" (meditative imaginative accountings) and "pebbles" (each a "brief, easily pocketable perception that remains incomplete until the reader’s own response awakens inside it"), Hirshfield explores a poetry-making that looks simultaneously outward and inward, finding resonant and precise containers for the deepest currents of our inner life.
After is also a book of elegies, both overt and implicit, both personal and culturally shared. Throughout sounds a bass-note awareness of time: its inexorable effects on our lives and the plunge into the moment’s richness that brings our singular, paradoxical recourse against its erasure. This is a profound, generous, and masterful sixth collection by one of the preeminent American poets of her generation.