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.
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 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.
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.
A videotape and audio recording of the entire reading is available for use on-site from UNH Special Collections.
In addition, the following recorded excerpts have been made available for this online exhibit courtesy of the participants:
Read by Mekeel McBride
"Rain in January"
Read by Mekeel McBride
"Learning in the First Grade"
Read by Charles Simic
Read by Charles Simic
"Let Evening Come"
Read by Charles Simic
"The Sandy Hole"
Read by Donald Hall
"Three Small Oranges"
Read by Donald Hall
Read by Donald Hall
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)
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
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.
Three Published Versions of Ox Cart Man
The New Yorker
Kicking the Leaves
Old and New Poems
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