In Jane Hirshfield's sixth book of poetry entitled, "After," she is interested or invested in the use of words and their function in life and what they have to teach. The theme of this contemporary woman poet seems to dwell in her poem called "To Speech," "What lives in words is what words were needed to learn." After the poet has mastered the use of language, only then can it be manipulated into the truth. She is conscious of words associated with self awareness, namely: judgment, grief, theology, hope, articulation, possibility, speech, and she even grasps the concept of some of the most insignificant and magnificent words such as `to', `and', or `of.' It is important to mention the white space in between the words; Many of her words are short, concise, delicious, and function to be uttered and reclaimed. Among them include Hirshfield's first poem in her book, "After Long Silence" which seems to be a declaration of the very thing which she feels most important to convey to the reader of her poems: "The untranslatable thought must be the most precise/ Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."
Hirshfield's poetry is like a walk through the awakening of ignorance, you are not sure what to expect, but once you have completed your journey you are never the same. Along the way Hirshfield uses sounds, symbols, elegies, personifiers, metaphors, and assays to convey her thoughts. Maya Angelou, a great poet in her own right once said, "I've gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware." Angelou and Hirshfield both require that the importance of being aware of words is one's own responsibility. Within the second to the last poem titled, "Letter to C," Hirshfield reminds the reader where the journey has taken them within her book of poems. In this poem there are references to the many symbols, sounds, and constructions uttered by the poet in her other poems; for example: Orpheus a tragic character which appears in her poem called "Flowering Vetch," the use of dogs which is a natural occurrence in more than half of her poems, Vilnius which is the title and subject of her poem "Vilnius," and Krakow which appears in her poem "Not Only Parallel Lines Extend to the Infinite." The poem "Letter to C," then functions to bring the reader from the beginning to the end of her book of poems.
Through Hirshfield's careful metaphor, the self "...carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags, being careful between the trees to leave extra room." Hirshfield's title, "After," becomes for the reader a kind of afterthought. After Hirshfield takes the reader through the many isolated incidences of which live is based one thing remains, "Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad, you slept, you awakened." I would take her utterance a step further and say that "you awakened," to find yourself. Anyone who has the chance to read her poetry should not fail at the opportunity. Hirshfield style of writing poetry is accessible to anyone who wants to enter her world and unpack her words.