"Da Capo" by Jane Hirshfield + Lentil Stew with Chestnuts

You’ve heard the advice before: Write it down on a slip of paper and burn it, or wrap it with twine and thrust it into the ocean tied to a rock. Whatever it is, a vice, a relationship, a past, the physical act of releasing it to the universe is supposed to encourage an emotional release, too.

I’m here with Jane Hirshfield again, making lentils. This time, the speaker of this poem finds a subject who is broken and encourages her to “take the used-up heart like a pebble/ and throw it far out.” What comes next is a specific instruction to go home and make soup. The speaker provides details, tells us which order to prepare the ingredients. To do it, because, if one is in the position of just returning from throwing out their old heart, it might be impossible to put one foot in front of the other. So the list is one of grace, care and meant to aid the renewal process. Also, when you return from throwing out your heart, you may be hungry but not realize it, and need a little reminder to engage in the very basic act of feeding yourself.

Da Capo

By Jane Hirshfield

Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

From The Lives of the Heart

Translated from Italian, Da Capo is a musical term meaning “from the beginning.” The poem gives permission: “Begin again the story of your life.” Start with the most basic ingredients, the direct source of flavor. Onions, celery, carrots. Then begin to layer the rest, let is simmer, serve it with creamy goat cheese and freshly minced parsley. It’s a meal about comfort, healing, simplicity. Starting again.


Without the chestnuts, this will make a very hearty lentil stew, but they add a subtle sweetness that really enhances the stew.

1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup diced carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large cloves garlic
2 cup black lentils
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups water
1 cup whole roasted chestnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

Add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil to the bottom of a heavy stock pot, about 2 tablespoons. Over medium heat, add the onion, celery and carrots and stir to coat. Season with salt. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the chestnuts, lentils, and the liquid; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender.

When the lentils are almost done, add the soy sauce. Taste for seasonings and add more salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve with crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkling of parsley.