On the Fifth Day

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Resource Pack for:‘On the Fifth Day’, by Jane Hirshfield

Created by Mark Edgecombe

Context

Jane Hirshfield (born 1953) is an American poet and Buddhist whose writing frequently deals with issues relating to science. She performed the poem you are about to read, ‘On the Fifth Day’, at the March for Earth Science Day 2017, on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

The poem’s title is ‘On the Fifth Day’ because it was written on 25 January 2017 – the fifth day of Donald Trump’s presidency. This was the day on which Trump announced that American government scientists could no longer release any research without first obtaining his permission.

The title also carries echoes of the creation story in the book of Genesis in the Bible. In this story, God creates the universe over six days, and rests on the seventh. On the fifth day, God creates sea creatures and creatures of the air. The title of Hirshfield’s poem invites us, then, to compare the action of Trump on his fifth day, with the action of God on “the” fifth day.

While climate change is the prevailing issue facing humanity in our current era, environmental poetry is not new. Way back in the 1960s, Aotearoa’s own Hone Tuwhare was writing poems of protest against the reckless exploitation of natural resources by human beings. This recent poem of Jane Hirshfield’s fits within a long tradition of such poems. An interesting question to ponder is: What good does poetry do in the midst of a crisis?

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