Cover image for Gabriel : a poem
Gabriel : a poem
Hirsch, Edward.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Physical Description:
78 pages ; 24 cm
A poignant volume of works inspired by the author's son's tragic early death reflects on the young man's boisterous youth, his rebellious early adulthood, and the author's experiences of grief.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3558.I64 G33 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award

Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch's heart to our own, without sentimentality. From its opening lines--"The funeral director opened the coffin / And there he was alone / From the waist up"--Hirsch's account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief. In propulsive three-line stanzas, he tells the story of how a once unstoppable child, who suffered from various developmental disorders, turned into an irreverent young adult, funny, rebellious, impulsive. Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer's act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.

Author Notes

Edward Hirsch has published eight books of poetry and five books of prose. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Hirsch's poetry (The Living Fire, 2010) is rooted in his exceptional fluency in poetic traditions, showcased in his glorious A Poet's Glossary (2014), a landmark work as is this, his most personal creation to date, an elegy of such artistry and candor that any reader, including those leery of poetry, will read it with rising awe. Hirsch masterfully tells the grueling, sometimes funny, and, finally, tragic story of the life and death of his son, Gabriel, in a commanding and propulsive book-length poem. Written in tercets (three-line stanzas) bereft of punctuation, Gabriel takes us through a childhood brutally hijacked by strangely tumultuous brain chemistry and the torments of cruelly tested parenthood. Hirsch ­re-creates the hectic urgency of a boy in perpetual motion and ceaseless anxiety, describing Gabriel's quicksilver moods, love of action and wheeling and dealing, wildly inventive humor, and insistence on being his impossibly unconventional and inconvenient self. Hirsch anoints his rampaging son King of the Sudden Impulse / Lord of the Torrent / Emperor of the Impestuous, looks to other poets who lost children, and presents an explicit case study of his son's diabolical illness and attempted treatments. Hirsch's lightning-lit portrait of and surging lament for his hurricane of a son is a courageous, generous, and reverberating epic of fatherly love and mourning.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

MacArthur fellow and Guggenheim Foundation president Hirsch (The Living Fire) writes the kind of poem that no poet should ever have to: a near-unforgettable book-length verse memoir describing the life and death, the rambunctious childhood, the adventurous youth, the funeral, and the enduring memory, of the poet's only son. As a baby, Gabriel "was a trumpet of laughter/ And tears who did not sleep/ Through the night even once." As a child, he had behavioral disorders that made him hard to handle: "He was trouble/ But he was our trouble." Gabriel found some happiness-and some equally wild friends-as a young man in New York, but ventured out "during a rainstorm" (apparently Hurricane Irene) "And never came home." Hirsch mixes in his own reflections on other writers' mourning for the children they outlived (Words-worth, Mallarme, Mahler) without robbing his memoir of its momentum, nor his outcry at the cosmic injustice when a parent outlives a child. After all the set pieces (the coroner's report, the rituals of Jewish mourning), Gabriel's tumultuously charming personality comes through: "He loved twisting rides on roller coasters/ Coins fell from his pockets/ When he was upside-down." Unpunctuated, unrhymed triplets serve Hirsch's grief and tell his story well: even readers left unmoved by Hirsch's earlier offerings may have to reckon with this one. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. This book-length elegy recounts the brief yet turbulent life of the poet's adopted son, Gabriel, from his infancy to his sudden, tragic death at age 22. A brilliant but rambunctious child given to severe mood swings, Gabriel was beset by a cluster of developmental disorders ("He had reasons why/ Reason disobeyed him") and consequently fell victim to self-destructive behaviors, medications, and a parade of therapists and social workers. In an unbroken sequence of measured, unpunctuated tercets, Hirsch (The Living Fire) traces the emotional vortices and ripples of caring for his uncontrollable yet beloved son as well as "the work of mourning" that commenced after his death. Drawing inspiration and sustenance from other literary fathers who outlived their offspring (Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Ben Jonson), he constructs a personal history of grief that admits the full range of parental experience, from joy to anger to frustration to guilt to regret. VERDICT An artful, however, eminently readable poetic narrative, this collection captures "The evening with its lamps burning/ The night with its head in its hands" and the many difficult days that follow as vividly and as effectively as any prose memoir.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The population of his feelings Could not be governed By the authorities He had reasons why Reason disobeyed him And voted him out of office Anxiety His constant companion Made it difficult to rest Unruly party of one Forget about truces or compromises The barricades will be stormed Every day was an emergency Every day called for another emergency Meeting of the cabinet In his country There were scenes Of spectacular carnage Hurricanes welcomed him He adored typhoons and tornadoes Furies unleashed Houses lifted up And carried to the sea Uncontained uncontainable Unbolt the doors Fling open the gates Here he comes Chaotic wind of the gods He was trouble But he was our trouble Excerpted from Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.