This video segment from Poetry Everywhere features the poet Jane Hirshfield reading her poem "For What Binds Us" at the Dodge Poetry Festival. What does it mean to have a relationship over time? Jane Hirshfield wonders in her poetry about different kinds of bonds between people, some of which we cannot anticipate. How much we can really help each other, even the ones we love? How does time change relationships and heal wounds?
For a biography of the poet Jane Hirshfield please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.
There is a double meaning in title of this poem, one that is repeated in the first line: “what binds us.” People can be bound by love or hate; “bind” means a close connection that can be positive or negative. Even a positive meaning, of being bound by love, still implies being restricted, being tied to someone, unable to move freely.
The “couples” she introduces in the first stanza are slightly jarring to read: skin forming on the coffee in a cup, nails rusting in the wood they’ve been hammered into, metal joints pressing into each other where they meet. Each pair has been created by time; over time the skin forms, over time the nails rust into the wood, over time the joints meet.
The poet moves on to describe how skin that is cut heals over into a scar whose tissue is stronger than the original skin was—darker, stronger, and very visible. This strength comes from pain and accident, from being hurt and mended. Couples, says Hirshfield, are the same as the skin that scars. Why would it be that two people who have loved each other for a long time are scarred by it? Because of the damage people do, even or especially to the ones they love, says the poet. Over time, small hurts build up, are resolved and are accepted, just as the wood accepts the rust of the nails, and create a bond between the two people that nothing can break—or heal.
Read a biography of the poet Jane Hirshfield at the Poetry Foundation Web site.
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