Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The linked themes of “The Stone of Heaven” are the overflowing abundance and creativity of the universe and the unity of all life. Hirshfield sees the former in every object from the most microscopic to the grandest. In keeping with her Buddhist ideas, the poet celebrates all forms of life from the minute salt crystal and the microscopic helix within the cell to the mighty forces of the earth and the heavens. She uses jade, a stone of widely varying colors, to symbolize the unity of all creation. The colors named in the poem range from yellow to shadings of green to azure blue. Though many traditions other than the Chinese have attached religious significance to jade, the Chinese call it the stone of heaven, and it has been used extensively to symbolize both heaven and earth in religious rites. As the embodiment of the power of heaven, jade plays a large part in funeral practices as well. Taoist belief is even more specific, ascribing cosmic power to jade. The history of jade’s religious importance in Buddhist thought can be seen in the theme of Hirshfield’s poem in several ways. Her very first naming of the stone in the poem’s opening lines connects it to both heaven and earth. She calls it “the stone of heaven,” but the jade she names is the common type dredged up on the riverbank and named after the colors of familiar earthly products—muttonfat, kingfisher, and appleskin.

The moral of this celebration is implied in the two-line stanza...

(The entire section is 461 words.)