Poetry today from the only poet who has made me cry after reading his poems - Donald Hall. One night I started reading his book of poems, Without, chronicling his wife, poet Jane Kenyon's fight against lukemia, her death at age 47, and the following all-consuming grief that Hall somehow survived. I could not put the book down and read it in one sitting into the late hours of the night, tears filling my eyes by the end of it.
(Picture via Poetry Foundation)
“The pleasure we feel, reading a poem, is our assurance of its integrity.”
― Donald Hall, Claims for Poetry (Poets on Poetry)
Anyways, three poems today by Donald Hall.
by Donald Hall
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
You can hear Donald Hall read this poem here.
by Donald Hall
A rock drops in a bucket;
waves exhaust themselves
against the tin circle.
A rock in a pool;
splash, and ripples move out
interrupted by weeds.
The lake enormous and calm;
a stone falls;
for an hour the surface
moves, holding to itself the frail
shudders of its skin. Stones
on the dark bottom
make the lake calm,
the life worth living.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, a poem about cheese! Eat it up! Savor it by reading it loudly! ;-)(Like Hall said elsewhere: "..read poems for the pleasure of the mouth. My heart is in my mouth, and the sound of poetry is the way in." (From an interview in Narrative magazine.)
by Donald Hall
In the pantry the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh
Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner;
the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton
that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids.
O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.
Liederkranz ebullient, jumping like a small dog, noisy;
Pont l’Evêque intellectual, and quite well informed; Emmentaler
decent and loyal, a little deaf in the right ear;
and Brie the revealing experience, instantaneous and profound.
O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.
Reblochon openly sexual; Caerphilly like pine trees, small
at the timberline; Port du Salut in love; Caprice des Dieux
eloquent, tactful, like a thousand-year-old hostess;
and Dolcelatte, always generous to a fault.
O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses,
O family of cheeses, living together in pantries,
O cheeses that keep to your own nature, like a lucky couple,
this solitude, this energy, these bodies slowly dying.
A lot more poems by Donald Hall can be read at the Poetry Foundation page, including the amazing punctuation-less title poem of 'Without'. Also, Donald Hall interviewed many great poets at the Paris Review in early days, including T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Marriane Moore. He was himself interviewed by the Paris Review in the Fall of 1991.