The Envoy

By Jane Hirshfield b. 1953 Jane Hirshfield
One day in that room, a small rat.   
Two days later, a snake.

Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his   
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don’t know how either came or left.   
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something—terror? happiness? grief?—
entered and then left my body.

Not knowing how it came in,   
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.   
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,   
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives   
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

Jane Hirshfield, “The Envoy” from Given Sugar, Given Salt. Copyright © 2001 by Jane Hirshfield. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Given Sugar Given Salt (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2001)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Jane Hirshfield b. 1953

Subjects Nature, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jane  Hirshfield

Biography

Award-winning poet, essayist, and translator Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief (2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Animals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.