Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jane Kenyon OTHERWISE: New and Selected Poems

Jane Kenyon  was married to the poet Donald Hall. For twenty years they lived in New Hampshire. She died in 1995 after a year long battle with leukemia. With the help of  her husband she embarked on this book. In the book's Afterword Donald Hall writes about Jane Kenyon's work on this book, how he helped her and the way she revised her poems during the final days of her illness.

As I understand it Jane Kenyon struggled with depression her whole life. I don't find her poetry depressing even though the theme of despair is evident in many of the poems.  Her spiritual awareness, her inquiry, her earthiness, her attention to detail, to objects and the exquisite craft of her poetry transcends any darkness for me. Whatever she went through  her poems capture the humanness of "it." In that for this reader there is hope.

Otherwise: New & Selected Poems 

 Here is  a poem from OTHERWISE

Having it Out with Melancholy  
by Jane Kenyon

If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure.
A. P. CHEKHOV The Cherry Orchard

When I was born, 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.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad -- even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours -- the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.

           2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.


You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

           4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep's 
frail wicker coracle.


Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors -- those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.

       6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life -- in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 

           7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.

           8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can't 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can't sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can't read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.


High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note 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.

 Read about Jane Kenyon and listen to her poems at where I found
Having it Out with Melancholy

 Here are a few lines from her poem Happiness, one of my favorite poems in the book .

 "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 a fortune  far away."

 Read the rest  of this poem at