Life at Eagle Pond: The Poetry of Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall

Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall

Eagle Pond

In 1975, the couple moved to Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire. The ties with Hall’s family past and the sense of belonging to a community that accompanied the move had a deepening effect upon their lives and work.

For Hall, who spent his childhood summers and wrote his first poetry there, it was both a coming home and a “coming home to the place of language.” Kenyon found in the rural New England landscape a subject that allowed her to express her own inner world. As Charles Simic observed, “Kenyon’s country is both our rural New Hampshire and her inwardness in which we all recognize ourselves.”

Kenyon and Hall were the subject of Bill Moyers’ celebrated program A Life Together, broadcast on Public Television in December 1993.

Jane Kenyon

About Jane Kenyon

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) was born in Ann Arbor and graduated from the University of Michigan. She is the author of:

She has also translated the poetry of Anna Akhmatova. In April 1996, Graywolf Press published a collection of Kenyon’s poetry, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems.

Kenyon was the recipient of the PEN Voelcker Award, the New Hampshire Writers and Publishers Project Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, and in January 1995 was appointed New Hampshire Poet Laureate.

About Donald Hall

Donald Hall

Donald Hall was born in 1928 in Hamden, Connecticut, attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, and taught for many years at the University of Michigan. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including:

  • The One Day, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
  • The Museum of Clear Ideas, nominated for the National Book Award)
  • numerous essay collections (including String Too Short To Be Saved, the Eagle Pond books, and Life Work)

Hall has also authored children’s books, including the award-winning Ox-Cart Man, and textbooks. He was Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 1984-1989.

Jane Kenyon

Photo: ©Ken Williams, Concord Monitor

On Thursday October 26th, 1995, three New Hampshire poets gathered to celebrate the life and work of poet Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia in April that same year. An overflow crowd of 150 gathered in the Forum Room of the University of New Hampshire’s Dimond Library to listen to readings from Kenyon’s husband, poet and writer Donald Hall, UNH poetry professor and 1990 Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic, and UNH poetry professor Mekeel McBride.

Mekeel McBride opened with an account of her experience reading Jane Kenyon’s poetry for the first time. She read selected poems from Kenyon’s first two books, From Room to Room and The Boat of Quiet Hours.

Charles Simic followed with an analysis of Kenyon’s poetic powers and read selections from Let Evening Come and Constance.

Donald Hall closed the reading with his personal account of Kenyon’s development as a poet. He mostly read from Kenyon’s unpublished work, all of which is included in a posthumous collection, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press. Hall also used the occasion to announce that Kenyon’s papers would come to UNH Special Collections in 1996.

See images from the Celebration.

A videotape and audio recording of the entire reading is available for use on-site from UNH Special Collections.

Donald Hall reading a podium

Donald Hall

Reading Recordings

In addition, the following recorded excerpts have been made available for this online exhibit courtesy of the participants:

"The Shirt"
Read by Mekeel McBride

"Rain in January" 
Read by Mekeel McBride

"Learning in the First Grade"
Read by Charles Simic

Mekeel McBride and Donald Hall

Mekeel McBride and Donald Hall

Read by Charles Simic

"Let Evening Come" 
Read by Charles Simic

"The Sandy Hole"
Read by Donald Hall

Charles Simic (reading) with Mekeel McBride and Donald Hall

Charles Simic (reading) with Mekeel McBride and Donald Hall

"Three Small Oranges"
Read by Donald Hall

"Man Eating"
Read by Donald Hall

Donald Hall, Michael DePorte, and Mekeel McBride

Donald Hall, UNH English Department Chairman Michael DePorte, and Mekeel McBride

Donald Hall, UNH English Department Chairman Michael DePorte, and Mekeel McBride. October 26, 1995.
Photographs courtesy of Gary Samson, UNH Photographic Services.

Selected Poems of Jane Kenyon


The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can’t bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

Jane Kenyon from Constance (1993)

Ice Out 

As late as yesterday ice preoccupied
the pond – dark, half-melted, water-logged.
Then it sank in the night, one piece,
taking winter with it. And afterward
everything seems simple and good.

All afternoon I lifted oak leaves
from the flowerbeds, and greeted
like friends the green-white crowns
of perennials. They have the tender,
unnerving beauty of a baby’s head.

How I hated to come in! I’ve left
the windows open to hear the peepers’
wildly disproportionate cries.
Dinner is over, no one stirs. The dog
sighs, sneezes, and closes his eyes.

Jane Kenyon from Let Evening Come (1990)

Let Evening Come

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.

Jane Kenyon from Let Evening Come (1990)

Notes from the Other Side

I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one’s own eye in the mirror,
there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon from Constance (1993)


I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon from Constance (1993)

Peonies at Dusk

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.

Jane Kenyon from Constance (1993)


“The future ain’t what it used to be,”
said the sage of the New York Yankees
as he pounded his mitt, releasing
the red dust of the infield
into the harshly illuminated evening air.

Big hands. Men with big hands
make things happen. The surgeon,
when I asked how big your tumor was,
held forth his substantial fist
with its globed class ring.

Home again, we live as charily as strangers.
Things are off. Touch rankles, food
is not good. Even the kindness of friends
turns burdensome; their flowers sadden
us, so many and so fair.

I woke in the night to see your
diminished bulk lying beside me–
you on your back, like a sarcophagus
as your feet held up the covers. . .
The things you might need in the next
life surrounded you — your comb and glasses,
water, a book and a pen.

Jane Kenyon from Constance (1993)

Selected Poems of Donald Hall

White Apples

when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
            I sat up in bed

and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

Donald Hall from The Town Of Hill (1975)

Names of Horses

All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.

Donald Hall from Kicking the Leaves (1978)

Mount Kearsarge Shines

Mount Kearsarge shines with ice; from hemlock branches
snow slides onto snow; no stream, creek, or river
    budges but remains still. Tonight
        we carry armloads of logs

from woodshed to Glenwood and build up the fire
that keeps the coldest night outside our windows.
    Sit by the woodstove, Camilla,
        while I bring glasses of white,

and we’ll talk, passing the time, about weather
without pretending that we can alter it:
    Storms stop when they stop, no sooner,
        leaving the birches glossy

with ice and bent glittering to rimy ground.
We’ll avoid the programmed weatherman grinning
    from the box, cheerful with tempest,
        and take the day as it comes,

one day at a time, the way everyone says,
These hours are the best because we hold them close
    in our uxorious nation.
        Soon we’ll walk — when days turn fair

and frost stays off — over old roads, listening
for peepers as spring comes on, never to miss
    the day’s offering of pleasure
        for the government of two.

Donald Hall from The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993)

Kicking the Leaves

Each fall in New Hampshire, on the farm
where my mother grew up, a girl in the country,
my grandfather and grandmother
finished the autumn work, taking the last vegetables in
from the cold fields, canning, storing roots and apples
in the cellar under the kitchen. Then my grandfather
raked leaves against the house
as the final chore of autumn.
One November I drove up from college to see them.
We pulled big rakes, as we did when we hayed in summer,
pulling the leaves against the granite foundations
around the house, on every side of the house,
and then, to keep them in place, we cut spruce boughs
and laid them across the leaves,
green on red, until the house
was tucked up, ready for snow
that would freeze the leaves in tight, like a stiff skirt.
Then we puffed through the shed door,
taking off boots and overcoats, slapping our hands,
and sat in the kitchen, rocking, and drank
black coffee my grandmother made,
three of us sitting together, silent, in gray November.

Donald Hall from Kicking the Leaves (1978)

An old life

Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.

Donald Hall from The New Criterion (Jan. 1995)

Christmas Party at the South Danbury Church

December twenty-first
we gather at the white Church festooned
red and green, the tree flashing
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School
recite Scripture, sing songs,
and scrape out solos,
they retire to dress for the finale,
to perform the pageant
again: Mary and Joseph kneeling
cradleside, Three Kings,
shepherds and shepherdesses. Their garments
are bathrobes with mothholes,
cut down from the Church’s ancestors.
Standing short and long,
they stare in all directions for mothers,
sisters and brothers,
giggling and waving in recognition,
and at the South Danbury
Church, a moment before Santa
arrives with her ho-hos
and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark
of whole silence, God
enters the world as a newborn again.

Donald Hall from The New Criterion (Jan. 1995)

Donald Hall’s poem “Ox Cart Man” first appeared in the October 3, 1977 issue of The New Yorker. Hall revised it substantially prior to its publication, as demonstrated by the nineteen drafts of the poem found in the Donald Hall Collection here in UNH Special Collections. He then revised the poem slightly prior to its publication in Kicking the Leaves (1978) and again for publication in Old and New Poems (1990).

Hall later expanded the text as the basis for a children’s book, Ox-Cart Man (1979), which included illustrations by Barbara Cooney. Ox-Cart Man received the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal in 1980.

Draft 1

The Ox Cart Man, draft 1, done on white lined paper in green ink with red and black ink used for corrections
second page of the Ox Cart Man draft 1

Draft 2

The Ox Cart Man, draft 2, written in red ink on yellow legal pad paper, corrections and cross outs done in red ink
The Ox Cart Man, draft 2, page 2

Draft 3

Ox Cart Man, draft 3, written in green ink with red and black ink used for corrections, title of poem changed
Ox Cart Man, draft 3, page 2, written in green ink with red and black ink used for corrections, title of poem changed

Draft 4

Ox Cart Man, draft 4 written in black ink, red ink used for corrections, many corrections in this draft
Ox Cart Man, draft 4, page 2, written in black ink, red ink used for corrections, many corrections in this draft

Draft 5

Ox Cart Man, draft 5, written in red ink, very few corrections
Ox Cart Man, draft 5, page 2, written in red ink, very few corrections

Draft 6

Ox Cart Man, draft 6, written using typewriter on white paper, corrections done in black and green ink

Draft 7

Ox Cart Man, draft 7, written using typewriter, many corrections made in black and red ink

Draft 8

Ox Cart Man, draft 8, typewritten on bright yellow paper, red ink used for corrections

Draft 9

Ox Cart Man, draft 9, typewritten on white paper, black and red ink used for corrections

Draft 10

Ox Cart Man, draft 10, typewritten on white paper with pink ink used for corrections

Draft 11

Ox Cart Man, draft 11, typewritten on white paper, no corrections

Draft 12

Ox Cart Man, draft 12, typewritten on white paper with corrections done in black ink

Draft 13

Ox Cart Man, draft 13, typewritten and red ink used for corrections

Draft 14

Ox Cart Man, draft 14, typewritten and blue ink used for corrections, signature of Donald Hall at the bottom

Draft 15

Ox Cart Man, draft 15, typewritten on light pink paper

Draft 16

Ox Cart Man, draft 16, typewritten, multiple notes written in black ink

Draft 17

Ox Cart Man, draft 17, typewritten, one note for correction left at the bottom in black ink

Draft 18

Ox Cart Man, draft 18, typewritten, no corrections made

Draft 19

Ox Cart Man, draft 19, dated at top, few corrections made in black ink

Three Published Versions of Ox Cart Man

The New Yorker

Ox Cart Man, published version in The New Yorker


Kicking the Leaves

Ox Cart Man, published version in Kicking the Leaves


Old and New Poems

Ox Cart Man, published version in Old and New Poems

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