Book Reviews

"The First Thing and the Last" 

 

Collected Poems, by Jane Kenyon. Graywolf, 320 pp., $26

In 1994, Bill Moyers produced a documentary on Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon for PBS.Called A LifeTogether,it consists of interviews with the poets in their home, interspersed with footage of their public readings. The film, which won an Emmy for Moyers and a greatly expanded audience for Hall and Kenyon, seems in large part a study in contrasts: in conversation with Moyers, Hall is expansive, neighborly, eager to please, quick to expatiate on a question of technique or to illustrate his philosophies with country tales. Reading his poems he is a genial performer, gesturing freely, willing to interrupt himself to clarify a line or explain a reference. (These are all qualities that will serve him well in the laureateship to which he has recently been appointed.) Kenyon, on the other hand, is quiet, tentative, reticent; she almost always refuses to be drawn out, and reads her poems solemnly, nearly always sadly, seldom glancing up from the page. Their temperaments could hardly seem more different, and yet the film allows for no doubt of the sincerity or durability of their affection: watching his wife read her poems, Hall's face is radiant with pleasure; asked by Moyers to read "Pharaoh," a poem she wrote about Hall's cancer, Kenyon is audibly grieved. It is impossible, of course, to watch the film now without a sense of morbid irony: though Hall speaks of his illness and poor chance for survival, it was the then- healthy Kenyon who would die, within two years, of leukemia.

This is all worth dwelling on because the film is an important moment in the development of the aura that hangs around Kenyon's life and work. In the past ten years a kind of cottage industry has grown up around Kenyon; this has been spearheaded by her husband, whose most recent book, The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, is a less moving account of the love and grief recorded in his powerful collection of poems, Without*. It has also produced, now, an academic conference, two critical collections—most recently Simply Lasting, edited by Kenyon's close friend Joyce Peseroff—a critical biography by John H.Timmerman, and a slim new volume by Hayden Carruth, Letters to Jane. Surely this is a remarkable lavishing of attention on a poet who published, in her lifetime, only four relatively small books, as well as translations of twenty Akhmatova poems. (Since her death Graywolf has also issued A Hundred White Daffodils, a collection of Kenyon's prose writings, which are often slight but on occasion breathtaking.) A cynical view of this attention might attribute it to the efforts of her husband, a prominent man of letters, and to her own place in the literary milieu of Cambridge,perhaps the closest thing we have in this country to a poetry capital; a more generous view would explain it simply by reference to the excellence of her poems.There is truth in both of these accounts. Kenyon is a poet of excellence, but the attention she receives, however loving, is seldom excellent: it obscures the sources of her strength and too often praises her failures. In Timmerman's biography, and in most of the essays in Peseroff's collection, Kenyon comes across as a poet so virtuous as to be prim, with only the slight, manageable wildness primness indulges as its foil.This is accurate enough of Kenyon's worst poems, which are also, surprisingly or not, her most popular poems. But at its best, for all its alluring reserve and quietness, for all its hopes of remedy and grace and modest, human happiness, Kenyon's work guards something irremediable at its heart.

I

By any measure, the distance traveled by Kenyon in her early career, the growth between her first and second books, is remarkable. Her debut, From Room to Room, appeared in 1978, three years after she and Donald Hall moved to Eagle Pond Farm; much of the book meditates on that move and documents the work of making a place among the presences and pressures of Hall's ancestral home. ("Gazing at us from parlor walls, / the gallery of ancestors must think we're foolish," she writes in "Changes.") The book suffers from the usual miscellaneous feel of first collections, the evidence of a young writer's search for a congenial style. (After her unsuccessful attempts here, Kenyon happily abandons the prose poem, publishing only one more during her career; similarly abandoned is surrealism after its single appearance in "Starting Therapy," with its "small brain / hovering over the porch.") Many of the poems have the feel of the workshop; they are polished to a perfect dullness.

More interesting, though, are failures that point to later strengths, techniques that will be indispensable to Kenyon's mature style. Several of these early poems are exercises in the kind of pure imagism whose popularity waxed and waned in the last century; here, in full, is "Changing Light":

Clouds move over the mountain,

methodical as ancient

scholars.

Sun comes out in

the high pasture where

cows feel heat

between their shoulder blades.

It may be hard to point to a defect in this poem, which is perfectly competent; it is also hard to care much about it. But Kenyon's early assays in imagism (Hall traces them to her early exposure to Witter Bynner's translations from the Chinese) will lead, after study at the schools of Akhmatova and,even more,Keats,to a mature faith in the image;Pound's dictum "the natural object is always the adequate symbol" would be her statement of that faith. Fidelity to the natural world provides Kenyon's most reliable source of aesthetic pleasure, and already in The Boat of Quiet Hours, her second book, her descriptions approach mastery. Here are the first two stanzas of "The Pond at Dusk":

 

A fly wounds the water but the wound

soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter

overhead, dropping now and then toward

the outward-radiating evidence of food.

The green haze on the trees changes

into leaves, and what looks like smoke

floating over the neighbor's barn

is only apple blossoms.

The first stanza is a lovely nod to the last line of the Autumn ode,"And gathering swallows twitter in the skies." No other single poem is so important for Kenyon, and allusions to it are scattered throughout the collected volume; surely Hall's claim that "No one will find in her work clear fingerprints of Keats" is entirely mistaken.

A sign of Kenyon's growth as a poet is her increasing ability to encode her landscapes with affective significance; in "February: Thinking of Flowers," also from The Boat of Quiet Hours, she does this by means of a startling figure:"Now wind torments the field, / turning the white surface back / on itself, back and back on itself, / like an animal licking a wound."This facility for description will lead, by her final poems, to passages disarming in their gorgeousness: "...tender ferns unfurl / in the ditches, and this year's budding leaves / push last year's spectral leaves from the tips / of the twigs of the ash trees";"Rain has fallen // all night, and the intimate / smells of wet earth press through / the screen.A sudden stir of air moves / the sere late summer leaves, sounding / for a moment like still more rain." These are lines that skirt the erotic in their sensuous pleasures, and the imagism that contributes to a sense of intellectual anemia in the early work, a fear of abstraction and philosophy, will become crucial to the expansive meditations Kenyon is capable of at her best.

If there are anomalous failures among these early works, and failures that point toward later strengths, there are also faults that will recur throughout the career, though seldom so baldly as here. Perhaps the worst poem in Kenyon's first collection is "At the Feeder." Clearly these early poems are as drunk on image as the mature work, but they nearly always put images to unsatisfying use: either, as in "Changing Light," leaving them to hover uninterpreted on the page, without a passable bridge to significance;or,as in these stanzas,and even more damagingly, interpreting them to triteness:

First the Chickadees take

their share, then fly

to the bittersweet vine,

where they crack open the seeds,

excited, like poets

opening the day's mail.

 

And the Evening Grosbeaks—

those large and prosperous

finches—resemble skiers

with the latest equipment, bright

yellow goggles on their faces.

 

Now the Bluejay comes in

for a landing, like a SAC bomber

returning to Plattsburgh

after a day of patrolling the ozone.

Every teacup in the pantry rattles.

Unlike Kenyon's mature poetic, which is everywhere respectful of mystery, these lines confront the natural world without wonder; they don't deepen the world but simplify it, translating it to human terms that allow for an understanding as complete and untroubled as it is shallow. But the more damaging feature of the poem, and the fault whose temptation would prove intermittently irresistible for Kenyon, is the poem's charm, its ingratiating cleverness; one feels it aspiring to popularity, to the pleased shiftings and sighs of entertainment.The same empty pleasure is on offer in one of Kenyon's most popular poems, "The Shirt":

The shirt touches his neck

and smooths over his back.

It slides down his sides.

It even goes down below his belt—

down into his pants.

Lucky shirt.

Surely this is far less sensual, and less sexy, than the "intimate smells of wet earth" in the lines quoted above.The erotic is an important element of Kenyon's work, and one far too often slighted (as this review will slight it) in discussions thereof; but here the erotic is entirely domesticated, shorn of all threat or compulsion, translated to the merely naughty.To register Kenyon's mastery of the erotic poem, one must read "Siesta: Barbados," "At the Summer Solstice," and, especially, "September Garden Party," a Cavafyan performance among the loveliest and most modest lyrics of our recent poetry:

We sit with friends at the round

glass table.The talk is clever;

everyone rises to it. Bees

come to the spiral pear peelings

on your plate.

From my lap or your hand

the spice of our morning's privacy

comes drifting up. Fall sun

passes through the wine.

II

The increasing power of Kenyon's work over the career is not due just to greater mastery of image, form, genre (with her second book she begins to inhabit the elegiac mode that will provide her with some of her most successful poems); it is also enabled by the greater depth and certainty of her themes. Kenyon's mental illness, her lifelong struggle with depression, is an important part of her legend, which generally figures the trajectory of that struggle as one of simple endurance and triumph; but the poems, at their most compelling and strenuous, chart a less certain course of occasional despair and only fleeting, fragile victory. When the poems do attempt to achieve definite "recovery," they nearly always feel forced, their resolutions willed statements, not felt dramas. Kenyon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of thirty-eight, just before the publication of The Boat of Quiet Hours; it is in that book that mental illness becomes an explicit subject of the poems. Consider

"Depression in Winter":

There comes a little space between the south

side of a boulder

and the snow that fills the woods around it.

Sun heats the stone, reveals

a crescent of bare ground: brown ferns,

and tufts of needles like red hair,

acorns, a patch of moss, bright green....

 

I sank with every step up to my knees,

throwing myself forward with a violence

of effort, greedy for unhappiness—

until by accident I found the stone,

with its secret porch of heat and light,

where something small could luxuriate, then

turned back down my path, chastened and calm.

The poem is entirely successful until the final line.The opening, Frostian gesture ("There comes...") establishes nicely a tone that will support both the particular, empirical observation of the poem's beginning ("Sun heats the stone, reveals / a crescent of bare ground") and the allegorical use to which that observation will be put.The entrance of the self in the second stanza is compelling both in its pathos and in the distance it keeps from that pathos, the judgment and recrimination clear in "greedy for unhappiness." In the final lines, when this self encounters the scene prepared for it in the poem's first half, there is a beautiful sense of reprieve as the speaker approaches the "secret porch of heat and light, / where something small could luxuriate." (The final word here, in an environment so overwhelmingly monosyllabic and Anglo-Saxon, constitutes its own luxury.) But the poem's literal and psychological turn is unconvincing, lacking motive or justification. Why turn away from the luxurious stone? What about the "secret porch of heat and light" chastens, what about it calms? The final line makes of the poem's experience, so forcefully and gracefully conveyed, a portable and unearned comfort.

A more satisfying poem is "After an Illness,Walking the Dog," from Kenyon's third collection, Let Evening Come. This, too, is a poem of recovery, but even as it celebrates health it does so in muted tones, recognizing health to be a precarious condition. Here is the first stanza:

Wet things smell stronger,

and I suppose his main regret is that

he can sniff just one at a time.

In a frenzy of delight

he runs way up the sandy road—

scored by freshets after five days

of rain. Every pebble gleams, every leaf.

The dog is the poet's surrogate here; his delight in a world newly discovered is her own, and that delight is registered in the detail the poem records, the "freshets" in the sandy road, the gleaming particulars of pebble and leaf, the middle stanzas' "Queen Anne's lace / and goldenrod" and "open / and bright" road. These are the details of a world made vibrant again after dullness, and this vibrancy, which is one of the speaker's perception, is figured also in the landscape itself, bathed again in light after "five days / of rain." But consider now the poem's end:

A sound commences in my left ear

like the sound of the sea in a shell;

Time to head home. I wait

until we're nearly out to the main road

to put him back on the leash, and he

—the designated optimist—

imagines to the end that he is free.

The dog's instinctive delight is the delight of what is irrepressible in the self, but this final stanza makes clear how much that delight depends upon delusion.Torn from pleasure taken in the natural world by the sign of an impending relapse (figured beautifully in the way the dark confines of the shell contrast the "open / and bright road"), the speaker is as prone to an uncongenial reality as the dog who can't imagine himself as other than free until the snapping on of the leash.

"Having it Out with Melancholy,"  from Let Evening Come,is Kenyon's most extended meditation on mental illness; along with the same book's "The Stroller," and the posthumously published and remarkable unfinished poem, "Woman, Why Are You Weeping?," it points toward a new ambition in Kenyon's work, a desire to stretch the capacities of the lyric toward larger, more sprawling, less neatly ordered poems. ("I need to be working on a kind of frontier where I don't know myself what's going to happen next," Kenyon said in an interview. "I think I'm getting ready to write something that I don't know anything about yet... I find that I have more to say than I thought."**) As it traces the relationship between the self who speaks and the disease that oppresses her, the poem takes on the shape of autobiography; in the candor with which it addresses the theme of madness, it might seem appropriate to consider it "confessional." Kenyon's admirers are quick to distance her from the dramatics of Plath or Sexton: "While Plath's poems can be overwrought, self-absorbed, and self-dramatizing," writes Laban Hill,"Kenyon's work contains a New England reserve that makes her poems much quieter and absent of histrionics."*** Again, this emphasizes Kenyon's tameness, and narrows the compass of the poet who could write such Plathian lines as "Like a mad red brain / the involute rhubarb leaf / thinks its way up / through loam," or, in this poem, "A piece of burned meat / wears my clothes." It is after such extremity that the poem's close, with its moment—always provisional, always passing—of "ordinary contentment," can come with such emotional and aesthetic force. Here is the final section in full:

High on Nardil and June light I wake at four,

waiting greedily for the first

notes of the wood thrush. Easeful air

presses through the screen

with the wild, complex song

of the bird, and I am overcome

 

by ordinary contentment.

What hurt me so terribly

all my life until this moment?

How I love the small, swiftly

beating heart of the bird

singing in the great maples;

its bright, unequivocal eye.

In its opening lines, this is a marvelous melding of the oldest resources of the tradition ("Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu!") and our current "pharmaceutical wonders," as she calls them, privileging neither: "High on Nardil and June light."The poignancy of the stanza break may be difficult to register without the context provided by the rest of Kenyon's work; one of the pleasures of reading a collected volume is that a poet's characteristic moves, the techniques that, by repetition, become patterns, provide for the making of significance and aesthetic or affective effect when, as here, those patterns are broken. Kenyon's stanzas are habitually, sometimes almost obsessively, closed; she likes for them to be complete, autonomous units, logically and syntactically. When she does enjamb between stanzas, then, the effect is startling. Here, breaking at "overcome" provides us with the experience the word denotes, the breach of self-possession figured as a breach of poetic propriety; and it also gives a heartbreaking weight to the first line of the second stanza, where one lands on "ordinary contentment" after the disorientation of the break.The landing is all the more moving for the modesty of what is gained: not ecstasy, not the mystic union, recounted in the poem's fifth section, that is merely the reverse image of Kenyon's more usual depression ("Once, in my early thirties, I saw / that I was a speck of light in the great / river of light that undulates through time"), but "ordinary contentment." The poem's final lines, shifting from the song of the bird, perceived at a distance, to the shocking proximity of its "swiftly / beating heart," attended to despite its minuteness among the "great maples," present a vision of freedom from conflict that can only ever be projected, not experienced; an eye "unequivocal" can seldom be, however much she longs for it, a poet's eye.

III

Much has been made of Kenyon's physiological conception of depression, her modern understanding of the state as biochemical rather than moral. The most quoted of the nine sections of "Having it Out with Melancholy" is the second, and it supports this view, beginning with a litany of medicaments:"Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, / Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, / Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft." (For all these remedies, Kenyon lacks the modern comfort of hope for a cure, and the poem's crushing epigraph is taken from Chekhov: "If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure.") But ill at ease with a biological understanding of depression is the poem's figuring of "Melancholy" throughout as an addressable entity, a "thou" to be accused and recriminated. ("When I was born," the poem begins, "you waited / behind a pile of linen in the nursery, / and when we were alone, you lay down / on top of me, pressing / the bile of desolation into every pore.") Depression, for Kenyon, is finally more than a physiological condition; whatever the causes of the disease, its effects are registered as much in the spirit as in the flesh: "You taught me to exist without gratitude. / You ruined my manners toward God." And the effect of Kenyon's illness on her work is not to be found merely in those poems that explicitly thematize depression; more profoundly, it can be seen in how it inflects the poet's relation to the self, which is nearly always one of alienation or reproach; the stance of these poems, in the theological dimension they frequently inhabit, is more often than not penitential.

This is to argue somewhat against the grain of most readings of the religious nature of Kenyon's work.These readings of Kenyon emphasize her "rhythms and images certain to comfort and inspirit," and they call on some of her most famous poems to make their case. Printed on the back of Kenyon's collected poems, in lieu of the usual praise, is the poem "Let Evening Come," which also features prominently in Moyers' film. Perhaps no poem so epitomizes the aspect of Kenyon's work that could lead Gregory Orr to claim, more than extravagantly, that Kenyon's "life, her work, and her legend have arrived at [the] power of healing, the way saints were imagined to be able to intercede for us." Kenyon herself hinted at a supernatural conception for the poem in an interview with Moyers:

KENYON: That poem was given to me.

MOYERS: By? 

KENYON: The muse, the Holy Ghost. I had written all the other poems in the book in which it appears, and I knew that it was a very sober book. I felt it needed something redeeming. I went upstairs one day with the purpose of writing something redeeming, which is not the way to write, but this just fell out. I really didn't have to struggle with it.

The poem enjoys, so far as I can tell, the universal sanction of Kenyon's readers. Here are the final three stanzas:

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

 

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop

in the oats, to air in the lung

let evening come.

 

Let it come, as it will, and don't

be afraid. God does not leave us

comfortless, so let evening come.

The problem with this is not just the absence of any human voice, the affectless inhabitation of a liturgical drone; or the strangely generic nature of the observations, which cuts Kenyon off from the description of particulars that is her greatest strength; or the lackluster language (the sentence immediately before these stanzas,"Let the stars appear / and the moon disclose her silver horn," is unique in Kenyon's work for its poetical triteness); or the facile dependence on refrain (an identical dependence structures "Otherwise," another beloved and bad poem); or the poem's bald appeal to the easiest kind of response, not different in kind from the low entertainment of a poem like "The Shirt"; or even its self-satisfaction, its refusal to acknowledge, as Kenyon's better poems everywhere acknowledge, the unassuageable fear of metaphysical dark which is constitutive of the human.The problem with this is that at the climax, when the poem's elements conjoin to perform the miraculous healing Orr imparts to them, the poet lies, and knows she is lying.

This is not a theological argument but a literary observation. Kenyon's biography is full of spiritual comfortlessness, and her early experience of religion was traumatic. She recounts this experience in an essay, "Childhood, While You Are In It." The "central psychic fact" of her childhood, she writes there, "was grandmother's spiritual obsession, and her effort to secure me in her religious fold."That effort was pursued primarily through fear: "The question for her was not do we love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, but have we obeyed, out of fear, his commandments."The pressures of this juridical religion served only to exile Kenyon from her religious heritage:"By the time I was in high school I grew contemptuous of religion and the people I knew who practiced it... I announced to my parents that one could not be a Christian and an intellectual, and that I would no longer attend church." It was only when she came, as Hall's wife, to Eagle Pond that she began again to attend church, and only slowly did she come into the deep, often conflicted faith of the mature poems. In her first collection, religion is present only as atmosphere: in a poem about her grandmother on her deathbed, the old woman is "pale / as Christ's hands on the wall above you"; in "Cages," a pair of monkeys reminds her of sacred iconography: "And one lies in the lap of another. / They look like Mary and Jesus / in the Pietà, one searching for fleas / or lice on the other, for succour / on the body of the other ...."

By The Boat of Quiet Hours, religion has become much more than decoration for Kenyon;it provides the standards and narratives by which to discipline and judge the self. Here is a short and beautiful poem from that volume,"Apple Dropping into Deep Early Snow":

A jay settled on a branch, making it sway.

The one shriveled fruit that remained

gave way to the deepening drift below.

I happened to see it the moment it fell.

 

Dusk is eager and comes early. A car

creeps over the hill. Still in the dark I try

to tell if I am numbered with the damned,

who cry, outraged, Lord, when did we seeYou?

This is a religion that bears more relation to the terrible faith of Kenyon's grandmother than to the complacency of "Let Evening Come."The pathos of the poem, its sudden shift to self-recrimination, remains a shock after multiple readings, as does the allegiance of the poem's final line, which leaves us in sympathy and communion with the crowds of the damned.The quotation is from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, when Christ separates the saved from the condemned,"as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." It is a terrifying passage for the incomprehension with which his judgment is met: the question Kenyon places into the mouths of the damned here is in fact spoken by both groups in the Gospel account. That Kenyon reads herself into this narrative is clear from a poem that comes several pages earlier in The Boat of Quiet Hours, "Back from the City," where she condemns herself for basking in the aesthetic pleasures of sanctity without answering to the demands of faith:

At the Cloisters I indulged in piety

while gazing at a painted lindenwood Pietà—

Mary holding her pierced and desiccated son

across her knees; but when a man stepped close

under the tasseled awning of the hotel,

asking for "a quarter for someone

down on his luck," I quickly turned my back.

This is the commonest hypocrisy, and easily forgiven; that Kenyon does not forgive herself easily is clear not only in the drama recalled by "Apple Dropping," but in the disgust registered here by the perfectly chosen verb "indulged."The easy comfort on offer in poems like "Let Evening Come," "Otherwise," or "Notes from the Other Side" (in which a warrantless missive from the frontier of heaven reassures us that "God, as promised, proves / to be mercy clothed in light") is corrected by poems that recognize the despair that must attend any attempt to live by the impossible demands of the narratives of Christ.There is, in such poems, surely a sense in which God leaves comfortless those who believe in him. "We Let the Boat Drift" offers a scene from the deathbed of Kenyon's father:

Once we talked about the life to come.

I took the Bible from the nightstand

and offered John 14:"I go to prepare

a place for you." "Fine. Good," he said.

"But what about Matthew? 'You, therefore,

must be perfect, as your heavenly Father

is perfect.'"And he wept.

"God will need something to burn," writes Kenyon in "The Argument," "if the fire is to be unquenchable."

IV

I emphasize the terrible aspects of Kenyon's God in an attempt to correct what seems to me a misapprehension about the nature of her poems; but to present this as a full reading of her devotion would be to offer a caricature for a caricature.The brimstone that was Kenyon's inheritance from her grandmother must be set beside the joy she takes in the natural world, in love, in her hope for the possibility of human goodness. This proximity of joy and despair is figured beautifully in "Twilight:AfterHaying"(anotherpoemsteepedinKeats's"ToAutumn"), which sometimes strikes me as Kenyon's loveliest poem:"These things happen...the soul's bliss / and suffering are bound together / like the grasses..." The succor she takes in the natural and human worlds, the poems at least sometimes allow, can be more compelling than the grand dramas and threats of theology. Here is one of Kenyon's last poems,"Man Eating":

The man at the table across from

mine is eating yogurt. His eyes, following

the progress of the spoon, cross briefly

each time it nears his face.Time,

 

and the world with all its principalities,

might come to an end as prophesied

by the Apostle John, but what about

this man, so completely present

 

to the little carton with its cool,

sweet food, which has caused no animal

to suffer, and which he is eating

with a pearl-white plastic spoon.

Modesty confronts grandeur in these lines,and exerts its own claims.This little poem, with its precise, sometimes comic detail ("His eyes...cross briefly") lovingly describing a man enjoying, as a kind of meditation, a sweetness free of offense, makes no metaphysical claims, provides nothing to refute eschatology, speaks in anything but absolutes; and yet it offers a comfort more authentic than any guarantee channeled from beyond the grave.

Kenyon's admirers often make extraordinary claims for her work; it is, says Gregory Orr, capable of something like miraculous healing; another essayist from Simply Lasting refers to Kenyon as "our Akhmatova." I sometimes cringe at these claims; they never compel my assent. Kenyon is a decidedly minor poet: her poems are limited in their forms, affects, and subjects; they do nothing to extend our literature beyond the bounds it knows; they make no attempt to swallow the world. But good minor poets ("something," as Eliot reminds us in The Sacred Wood, "which is very rare"), for all their limitations, may nonetheless be essential poets, essential to individuals if not to traditions, and after reading them one has a perpetual desire for their company. Kenyon is such a poet: her poems are not great; they are merely wonderful.They offer passages of moral force and incredible beauty, especially in their exact and moving descriptions of the natural world;the best two or three of them should have a permanent place in our literature. But the poems thus far enshrined in anthologies and critical articles are far from the best, emphasizing as they do the indulgence of metaphysical palliation that is Kenyon's greatest fault. Kenyon's permanent contribution to the soul's accoutrement lies instead in those poems that chronicle a life lived in the service of an ideal, honest both in expressing the joy of that ideal's discernment and the despair of failing it."Searching for God is the first thing and the last," she writes, "but in between such trouble, and such pain."

* In additon to the book under review, the following works are mentioned in this essay: Donald Hall, The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), 272 pp.; Hall, Without (Mariner, 1999), 96 pp.; Joyce Peseroff, ed., Simply Lasting (Graywolf, 2005), 256 pp.; John H.Timmerman, Jane Kenyon:A Literary Life (William B. Eerdman's Publishing, 2002), 288 pp.; Hayden Carruth, Letters to Jane (Ausable, 2004), 120 pp.;Jane Kenyon,A HundredWhite Daffodils (Graywolf,2000),226 pp.;Kenyon,From Room to Room (Alice James, 1978), 68 pp.; Kenyon, The Boat of Quiet Hours (Graywolf, 1986), 85 pp.; Kenyon, Let Evening Come (Graywolf, 1990), 80 pp. 

**Mike Pride,"A Conversation with Jane Kenyon," in Simply Lasting: 106. 

***Hill, "Jane Kenyon," in Simply Lasting: 135.


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