The Bell Zygmunt by Jane Hirshfield

Just listened to a most wonderful interview on The Poetry Programme, RTE Radio 1 with Pat Boran and American poet Jane Hirshfield. It was recorded back in 2007, shortly after the launch of her poetry collection After. She read a number of poems from the book but this one brought on the tears.  Also known as the Royal Sigismund Bell, the largest of the five bells hanging in the Sigismund Tower of the Wawel Cathedral in the Polish city of Kraków.  The poem was written for her friend Carol Thigpen, wife of poet Czeslaw Milozs, who died two years before her husband in 2002.  An award winning poet you must find out more about her here

This is:

The Bell Zygmunt

By Jane Hirshfield

For fertility, a new bride is lifted to touch it with her left hand,
or possibly kiss it.
The sound close in, my friend told me later, is almost silent.

At ten kilometers even those who have never heard it know what it is.

If you stand near during thunder, she said,
you will hear a reply.

Six weeks and six days from the phone’s small ringing,
replying was over.

She who cooked lamb and loved wine and wild-mushroom pastas.
She who when I saw her last was silent as the great Zygmunt mostly is.
A ventilator’s clapper between her dry lips.

Because I could, I spoke. She laid her palm on my cheek to answer.
And soon again, to say it was time to leave.

I put my lips near the place a tube went into
the back of one hand.
The kiss–as if it knew what I did not yet–both full and formal.

As one would kiss the ring of a cardinal, or the rim
of that cold iron bell, whose speech can mean “Great joy,”
or–equally–“The city is burning. Come.”


    1. Hey Robert, thanks for the suggestion, just read it, very beautiful. Her writing is so present in the moment; something that comes from her Zen training I guess.


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