Sibling Assignment #105: Love, Kindness, and Beauty with Jane Kenyon

I gave the sibling assignment this week.
Other than family members, who has been an influential person in your life and why?
You will find Raymond Pert's lovely tribute to Rick Frost here and Silver Valley Girl's here soon.

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.


The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?


A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket ...
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

Jane Kenyon

Thumbing through poetry anthologies a few years ago, I found numerous poems by Jane Kenyon. In Billy Collin's poetry 180 I was first introduced to Otherwise, in his book 180 more I first read Happiness. When Garrison Keillor compiled poems he read on Writer's Almanac into Good Poems for Hard Times I first devoured This Morning and reflected on Let Evening Come in Good Poems. The themes of Jane Kenyon's poems resonated with me. Images of the changing of seasons, rural living, and observations of everyday life in the country opened up to me the notion that simple pleasures can be captured in a poetic form. I continued to read and appreciate her poetry and learned more about her life. After graduating from the University of Michigan she married poet Donald Hall and they moved to Eagle Pond, New Hampshire where she continued with her writing life. She read and reread authors such as Keats, Chekhov, and Bishop. Not until I read Donald Hall's memoir The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon did I understand her struggle with depression during her adult life. Stricken with leukemia in 1993, she fought another batter and continued until her last days to write each and every day. She died in 1995 at the age of 48.

"There are things in life that we must endure which are all but unendurable, and yet I feel that there is a great goodness. Why, when there could have been nothing, is there something? This is a great mystery. How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?" -Jane Kenyon

She influenced me as a writer because she disciplined herself to observe the world and write about it each and every day. Also, during her long walks with her dog each day she carefully noticed her surroundings. She captured the light in the hayloft, the silver moon, a beautiful fox. She was able to express her inner world , but didn't allow depression to become the centerpiece of her writing. She influenced me as a person because of her drive to do good in the world. She lived with depression, cancer, death of loved ones, and her husband's illness . She kept her routine and appreciation of life.

Knowing she wasn't going to live much longer she completed her final anthology Otherwise in those last days. She was reading, listening to her husband reread words, arguing over titles to include, still trying to wrestle with the right words. She never gave up that passion for words, love, kindness, family, and beauty. She continues to influence me as I immerse myself in her works. This is the first poem in that anthology entitled Otherwise:


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 basket maker,
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.
-Jane Kenyon
I have posted the following poems by Jane Kenyon on this blog . You can read Otherwise here, Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks here, Let Evening Come here


  1. I love the reasons you have for reading and embracing Kenyon's poetry.


  2. Simply stunning.


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