I learned of a poet named Jane Kenyon when I first came to the mountains and began studying poetry with Nancy Simpson. I don’t remember where I found the first poem I read by Jane Kenyon, but I know I immediately felt a kinship for this woman. Her poems spoke to me like no other poems I had read. I bought her poetry books, and I read them over and over. That was in 1996. She was my favorite modern poet.
I learned she was married to noted poet, Donald
Hall, and then I learned a terrible
fact. I learned she was dead. She died from leukemia in April, 1995, the year before I discovered her. I felt as though I had lost a dear friend, and no one had told
me about it. Jane was too young to die, only 47 years old. I realize now that her poems reflected
her feelings about her illness. I sensed the depressed woman she was when I
read her poems, and I felt such empathy for her.
Donald Hall has written many poems about his wife. He published a collection about her after her death. I hated it. He seemed to be angry, a common emotion after losing a loved one, and I didn't like the foul language he used or the mood he was in when he wrote that book. I felt Jane deserved better. I know from losing my own beloved, that fresh grief doesn't make one the best writer, only a writer who needs to pour out his pain on paper.
When I discovered the following poem by Hall in a book of poems collected by GarrisonKeillor, Good Poems, as heard on TheWriter’s Almanac, my displeasure at Donald Hall and his book I had hated, dissipated like early morning fog. I hope you like it.
Her Long Illness
By Donald Hall
Daybreak until nightfall,
he sat by his wife at the hospital
while chemotherapy dripped
through the catheter into her heart.
He drank coffee and read
the Globe. He paced. He worked
on poems; he rubbed her back
and read aloud. Overcome with dread,
they wept and affirmed
their love for each other, witlessly,
over and over again.
When it snowed one morning, Jane gazed
at the darkness blurred
with flakes. They pushed the IV pump
which she called Igor
slowly past the nurses’ pods, as far
as the outside door
so that she could smell the snowy air.