Edward Hirsch's parents wanted him, their eldest son, to be a lawyer or a doctor, not a poet. Though he grew up in a middle-class home without books, Hirsch started writing poetry as a teenager and instantly knew that poetry was his life's purpose. Thirty-five years later, he has an impressive body of work. Living Fire: New and Selected Poems brings together the best of his verses and serves as an example of what it means to follow your passion.

After a Long Insomniac Night

I walked down to the sea in the early morning
after a long insomniac night.

I climbed over the giant gull-colored rocks
and moved past the trees,
tall dancers stretching their limbs
and warming up in the blue light.

I entered the salty water, a penitent
whose body was stained,
and swam toward a red star rising
in the east—regal, purple-robed.

One shore disappeared behind me
and another beckoned.
                                     I confess
that I forgot the person I had been
as easily as the clouds drifting overhead.

My hands parted the water.
The wind pressed at my back, wings
and my soul floated over the whitecapped waves.

How Edward Hirsch learned to follow his passion

12 ways to write a poem
Excerpt from the Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, copyright © 2010 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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