A Weekend with Donald Hall–and Jane Kenyon

Posted June 17th, 2013 by Albert DeCiccio Ph.D., Provost, Southern Vermont College

At the Bennington Writers Seminar at Bennington College, near where my wife Ann and I walk every day, I knew that Donald Hall was going to read. So we attended the reading and the lecture the next day.  Nearly 85, and quite frail (though feisty), Hall read an essay about his life published recently in The New Yorker, entitled “The Three Beards”: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/three-beards.htmlI'm pretty sure you'll like it.

In it, he talks a lot about his second wife, the writer Jane Kenyon, whose beautiful and comforting poem “Let Evening Come” is a favorite of mine. Later, when Jane died of cancer at 47, he wrote “Ardor.”  Magnificent, though sad.  Enjoy both poems.

At his lecture, Hall talked about a bygone age of poets and writers, including his meeting with T.S. Eliot, his work with Faulkner and Steinbeck, his writing process (which is really a revising process), his being in the “house of the genuine” when inspiration strikes and the beginnings of pieces fall down upon him like meteor showers falling on earth, and about how confessional poets and the Beat poets changed and loosened up his writing and other writers whom he referred to as conservative writers.  One important point he made was that more great poetry was written in the seventeenth century than in any other century and that one who could not scan poetry, who does not understand metrics, could not hear the poetry of that century, including Milton’s booming voice.

I was glad to attend and to have a chance to hear from someone who shared so much of our recent literary history.

Let Evening Come

Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving   

up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing   

as a woman takes up her needles   

and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned   

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.   

Let the wind die down. Let the shed   

go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop   

in the oats, to air in the lung   

let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   

be afraid. God does not leave us   

comfortless, so let evening come.

Ardor

Donald Hall

Nursing her I felt alive

in the animal moment,

scenting the predator.

Her death was the worst thing

that could happen

and caring for her was the best. 



After she died, I screamed,

upsetting the depressed dog

who brought me her blue

sneaker. Now in the third

vanished year, I no longer

address the wall covered

with many photographs

or call her “you”

in a poem.  She recedes

into the granite museum

of JANE KENYON 1947-1995.



I long for the absent

woman of different faces

who makes metaphors

and chops garlic, drinking

a glass of Chardonnay,

oiling the wok, humming

to herself, maybe thinking

how to conclude a poem.

When I make love now,

something is awry.

Last autumn, a woman said,

“I mistrust your ardor.” 



This winter in Florida

I loathed the old couples

my age who promenaded

in their slack flesh

and held hands. I gazed

at young women with desire

and outrage –unable to love

or work, to stay home

or travel, to die or live. 


Hours are slow and weeks

rapid in their vacancy.

Each day lapses as I recite

my complaints. Lust is grief

that has turned over in bed

to look the other way.

 

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