Kenyon on Her Birthday

Today is the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, and here are a couple of my favorites.

Kenyon died in 1995 from leukemia at the age of 47. She was married to Donald Hall and the two of them lived in rural New Hampshire. The rural landscape and their quiet lives at Eagle Pond certainly inform her work, as did her struggle with depression--you may know her poem "Having It Out with Melancholy."

To put it simply, my favorite poems of hers are those that articulate her struggle with faith and doubt. Oftentimes, Kenyon explores these by incorporating Biblical imagery and Christian tropes, and always turning over those stones to see what's on the dark side beneath them.

If you don't already own her new and selected poems, the collection titled Otherwise, I urge you to purchase it or check it out from your local library.

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Happiness

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                   It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.


Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . . .

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .



Jane Kenyon
from Otherwise