The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Stone of Heaven” is a free-verse ode of thirty-two lines arranged in five stanzas. The stanzas range from two to sixteen lines of irregular length. The last stanza, a sixteen-line hymn to the earth, includes human beings in its praising and naming and is marked by many repetitions of initial words in succeeding lines (anaphora). The voice of the poet serves as a guide in the first two stanzas of the poem, signifying a place (“here”) where the earth is the many greens of jade (known as the stone of heaven in China). She further specifies the place in the next stanza, identifying it as the home of the “Flemish Masters,” painters of the fifteenth century known for the brilliance and depth of their colors; the poet’s voice takes on the tones of an enamored tourist as she describes the town, the houses, and the wine.

In the closing line of the second stanza, she compares the detail in the paintings to brightly colored, leaping fish. A reader familiar with Jane Hirshfield’s Buddhist imagery will recognize the appearance of fish in the poem as a kind of shorthand for the abundance of life. This is reinforced in the following image of the woodthrush who sings not in order to fill the world with his song but because he is overflowing with the world’s abundance. From here the poem moves to instruct the reader in the many forms of this abundance, striking another of Hirshfield’s Buddhist keynotes: Human beings are not the center of the...

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Its form and structure and the treatment of its subject mark “The Stone of Heaven” as a free-verse ode in the Pindaric mode of encomium, or a poem in praise of something. The classical Pindaric ode includes a paean (a hymn of praise) as Hirshfield does in the final stanza of “The Stone of Heaven.” Like the classical ode, it is characterized by apostrophe and anaphora. The poet has set herself the task of praising the whole world (animal—especially human—vegetable, and mineral), including the four elements: earth, fire, air, and water. Throughout the poem, she juxtaposes nonhuman with human creativity in imagery that is predominantly visual and emphasizes color; its palette ranges from brilliant, intense colors to the near colorlessness of smoke and water.

Hirshfield begins by juxtaposing certain colors of jade with human creations (paintings). She refers to jade as the Chinese do: It is a religious symbol, “the very stone of Heaven.” The effect of the implicit metaphor that follows (“And here, in the glittering/ hues of the Flemish Masters”) is to place the viewers of the scene and the reader in both the paintings and the town: “we sample their wine;/ rest in their windows’ sun-warmth,/ cross with pleasure their scrubbed tile floors.” Thus the following simile of the leaping and darting fish depicts the colors of both the paintings and the town: “Everywhere the details leap like fish—bright shards/ of water out of water,...

(The entire section is 557 words.)