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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Her Garden

(Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, American poets)

When they first met, Donald Hall was a published poet and a tenured professor and Jane Kenyon a college student. They were twenty years apart in age. After they married, they moved to Hall’s Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, where they lived a quiet and happy life together. In their early days there, Hall said, “we worked on our poems, often in the same room . . . at close quarters because we had no heat except for the single woodstove, Jane and I occupying chairs on either side.”

And they helped and inspired each other in their work. “Boundaries helped. We belonged to different generations. Her first book of poems came out as I published my fifth. I could have been an inhibitor as easily as I was an encourager — if she had not been brave and stubborn.”

Then Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. As Hall helped her through the year-and-a-half of her fatal illness, he also wrote powerful lamentations.

Kenyon died in 1995, at the age of 47.

“After Jane died,” Hall said in an interview in 2006 following his appointment as U. S. Poet Laureate, “I wrote many poems of grief. For the first year, I wrote her letters. Later I wrote some poems in rhyme and meter. I had written poems in rhyme and meter when I was young, but most of my life I’ve written varieties of free verse. . . . I know whose poetry in particular was behind these poems, Thomas Hardy, who had a first marriage which ended in his wife’s death, whose marriage was very dissimilar to Jane’s and mine, but he wrote genuine and deeply moving poems of grief.”


I let her garden go.
let it go, let it go
How can I watch the hummingbird
Hover to sip
With its beak’s tip
The purple bee balm — whirring as we heard
It years ago?

The weeds rise rank and thick
let it go, let it go
Where annuals grew and burdock grows,
Where standing she
At once could see
The peony, the lily, and the rose
Rise over brick

She’d laid in patterns. Moss
let it go, let it go
Turns the bricks green, softening them
By the gray rocks
Where hollyhocks
That lofted while she lived, stem by tall stem,
Blossom with loss.

~ Donald Hall, born in 1928, American poet and essayist


Tabatha said...

What a poignant story. It's wonderful that they could make it work, being supportive and non-competitive. The connection to Thomas Hardy is interesting, too.

jama said...

Beautiful poem. Loved learning more about them :).