Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Poet Named Jane Kenyon

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.

Jane Kenyon
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.


DJan said...

It is a beautiful poem. I am glad you have forgiven him. For some people, being angry is a way to deal with grief.

Glenda Beall said...

I think most people go through the anger at something or someone or at everything when they are grieving. I did. I struck out at loved ones for no good reason, and I still regret things I said. I just hope they understand but likely they do not. I think you don't understand until you have to deal with a terrible loss of a loved one. I'm sure you know, DJan.

Vagabonde said...

That is a lovely and poignant poem. I like it a lot. It is sad but also full of the wonder of nature ..”so she could smell the snowy air.” Nature heals and I hope this man is now healed from his anger. I think the anger is against fate – why me? Why is this happening to me? why did she have to leave me alone, or why did he get an incurable illness? is the usual question and it takes time to go over that feeling.

Glenda Beall said...

Thanks, Vagabonde, for reading and commenting on my blog. Yes, this line in the poem touched me as I think snow has a feel and a smell as well. I remember when Barry was sick in Emory hospital for so long how we finally were able to take him outside in a wheelchair so he could see and feel nature. It was a short time, but he needed that.