Interpretation of Jane Hirshfield's poem The Adamantine Perfection of Desire

The Adamantine Perfection of Desire
by Jane Hirshfield

Nothing more strong
than to be helpless before desire.

No reason,
the simplified heart whispers,
the argument over,
only This.

No longer choosing anything but assent.

Its bowl scraped clean to the bottom,
the skull-bone cup no longer horrifies,
but, rimmed in silver, shines.

A spotted dog follows a bitch in heat.
Gray geese flying past us, crying.
The living cannot help but love the world.

"The Adamantine Perfection of Desire" by Jane Hirshfield is a poem that explores the complex and multifaceted nature of desire. Jane Hirshfield, a renowned poet with strong connections to Buddhism, weaves Buddhist themes into her work, and this poem is no exception. While the poem does not explicitly convey a Buddhist perspective, it can be interpreted through the lens of Buddhist philosophy, offering insights into desire and attachment. In this essay, we will explore the Buddhist interpretation of this poem, considering it as a cautionary tale against worldly love and attachment.

The Allure of Desire

The poem begins with the assertion that "Nothing more strong than to be helpless before desire." This line encapsulates the relentless and overpowering nature of desire. In Buddhism, desire (or "tanha") is one of the fundamental causes of suffering, leading to attachment, clinging, and ultimately dissatisfaction. The opening lines of the poem can be seen as a recognition of the seductive power of desire and its potential to ensnare individuals in the cycle of suffering.

Surrendering to Desire

The poem suggests that desire should be accepted without resistance. It speaks of the "simplified heart" that whispers, "only This," encouraging a surrender to the immediacy of desire. This concept aligns with the Buddhist idea of accepting the present moment and acknowledging desires without judgment or attachment. However, it also serves as a warning against allowing desire to consume one's existence.

The Adamantine Nature of Desire

The choice of the word "adamantine" in the poem's title underscores the unyielding and unbreakable quality of desire. In a Buddhist context, this can be interpreted as a cautionary symbol. Desire, when unchecked and unexamined, can become as unyielding as diamond, leading individuals to form strong attachments to the impermanent world. This attachment is at the core of suffering, according to Buddhist teachings.

The Illusion of Beauty

The poem continues to explore the transformation of desire from something that "horrifies" into something that "shines." This evolution can be seen as a commentary on the illusory nature of worldly beauty and pleasure. In Buddhism, attachment to transient, external beauty and pleasures is considered a cause of suffering. The poem suggests that once one fully surrenders to desire, the allure of the external world loses its power.

The Natural World and Love

The final stanza introduces images from the natural world, such as the spotted dog following a bitch in heat and the gray geese flying and crying. These images highlight the interconnectedness of all living beings with the world. In Buddhism, the interconnectedness of all existence is a fundamental concept. The poem's conclusion, "The living cannot help but love the world," can be interpreted as a reminder of the importance of cultivating a compassionate and loving attitude towards all living beings, beyond worldly desires and attachments.