How many of us feel we don’t want to be known beyond what we present to the world and are relieved when our presentations are not tested? When we’re not found out.
The poem below by the American poet Jane Hirschfield, is an uncomfortable look at our response when we read about the shameful acts of others. Is it relief? Is it pleasure? Is it confirmation that we have maintained a reassuring surface?
For Horses, For Horseflies
We know nothing of the lives of others.
Under the surface, what strange desires,
what rages, weaknesses, fears.
Sometimes it breaks into the daily paper
and we shake our heads in wonder –
‘Who would behave in such a way?’ we ask.
Unspoken the thought: ‘Let me not be tested’.
Unspoken the thought: ‘Let me not be known’.
Under the surface, something that whispers.
‘Anything can be done’.
For horses, horseflies. For humans, shame.
The last line is curious and makes a comparison between horses and their experience of horseflies and human beings and our experience of shame. Perhaps it asks a question about an ever-present sense of shame that we might share. An irritation that occupies the space between human fallibility and the drive to be civilised. Rosanna Warren says Hirschfield’s poetry invites us to pause ‘our fast-forward habits of mind’ and ‘clear a space for reflection and change’.
Quotes from Warren’s award citation for Hirshfield’s 2004 Academy of American Poets’ Fellowship.
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