Homage to Donald Hall: Afternoon at MacDowell by Jane Kenyon

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Editor’s Note: Poet Donald Hall passed away this week at the ripe age of 89 years old. Over the course of his career, he grew to become one of America’s most gifted and respected writers of the last century. His work inspired thousands of students to begin writing poetry, as he did when he visited Washington College in the 1970s, and eventually became the country’s poet laureate.

When he married fellow poet Jane Kenyon, almost twenty years his junior, in 1972, it was assumed that Hall would be the first to pass away. Sadly, it was Kenyon who died at 47 years old. 

One of the Spy’s favorite poets, Sue Ellen Thompson, counseled reprinting Kenyon’s poem “Afternoon at MacDowell” that she wrote after one of Hall’s many health crises as a compelling way to remember both of these special American poets.

Afternoon at MacDowell
Jane Kenyon, 1947 – 1995

On a windy summer day the well-dressed
trustees occupy the first row
under the yellow and white striped canopy.
Their drive for capital is over,
and for a while this refuge is secure.

Thin after your second surgery, you wear
the gray summer suit we bought eight
years ago for momentous occasions
in warm weather. My hands rest in my lap,
under the fine cotton shawl embroidered
with mirrors that we bargained for last fall
in Bombay, unaware of your sickness.

The legs of our chairs poke holes
in the lawn. The sun goes in and out
of the grand clouds, making the air alive
with golden light, and then, as if heaven’s
spirits had fallen, everything’s somber again.

After music and poetry we walk to the car.
I believe in the miracles of art, but what
prodigy will keep you safe beside me,
fumbling with the radio while you drive
to find late innings of a Red Sox game?

Jane Kenyon, “Afternoon at MacDowell” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon.

 

 

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