I was reminded recently of the poet Jane Kenyon and her husband, Donald Hall. Jane left us far too soon when leukemia came stalking and stole her away at the age of 47, almost 11 years ago. Donald is still writing at Eagle Pond Farm, their home in New Hampshire, a family home where his grandparents once lived. He spent childhood summers there in the same farmhouse which remains his beloved residence.
After years of crazed anguish in the wake of Jane's absence, he has created a bridge over this rocky chasm and lives more peacefully in his solitude. He is writing, and has made space in his life for companionship again.
Donald Hall said during an interview "What was the most beautiful thing in our marriage was when we weren't aware that we were going to die. And we just had our routine. You know you look back on it, and you think, 'Why wasn't I aware of how blissful that was?' But if you'd been aware of how blissful it was you would have been dreading losing it. Anybody who's been through anything like this knows what I mean." In a letter he wrote to Jane shortly after her death, a poem entitled "Letter With No Address," Hall wrote "four weeks/since you lay on our painted bed/and I closed your eyes." and "Your presence in this house/is almost as enormous/and painful as your absence."
Jane, younger by almost 20 years, was once a student of Hall's at Michigan, becoming his lover and eventually his wife. Theirs was an interesting life, separate during the day as they each wrote and worked in opposite ends of the house, yet connected in all ways. Lust would beckon them to make dates for love in the afternoon following mornings of hard work. This love affair endured until her death and captivated him long after she left this earth. I recently found Jane's poem, "The Shirt," fun-filled and spiced with her sensual sense of humor.
Hall chronicles this journey through leukemia, Jane's last days, and finally her death in his book, Without. I have just ordered The Painted Bed and The Best Day, The Worst Day. Both of these detail personal moments of this life which was blessed and rich yet tormented by impending death. Jane's posthumous book of poetry, Otherwise, is another one I shall order. Her poem "Let Evening Come" is a favorite of mine.
There is a fabulous essay written by Liam Rector who knew them both well and whose friendship with Donald and Jane offers a zoomed-in view of their life. His wedding to Tree Swenson, director of Academy of American Poets, was held in the back garden of Eagle Pond Farm. Swenson designed the covers of Jane's books, and only days before Jane died they collaborated on the painting which Jane wanted to grace the cover of Otherwise. Rector and Swenson had just gotten a puppy which they had named Kenyon when Donald called to tell them it was time to drive up to the farmhouse to tell Jane goodbye. Kenyon accompanied them on this sad journey.
My favorite of Donald's work is his prose, actually, specifically Life Work, which I have given as a gift several times. It was my initial introduction to him and this interesting life he lives. Through it I also found Jane and her beautiful poetry and later the PBS emmy-winning film, A Life Together. The film brought me their poetry readings and a glimpse of Eagle Pond Farm. It is a fascinating portrait of an intimate life lived and shared in love and poetry.
If you don't know these two exciting writers, be sure to check them out. It will be a delicious treat on a cold, winter's day.