Which year was the best?


Jane Kenyon and I were married for twenty-three years. For two decades we inhabited the double solitude of my family farmhouse in New Hampshire, writing poems, loving the countryside. She was forty-seven when she died. If anyone had asked us, “Which year was the best, of your lives together?” we could have agreed on an answer: “the one we remember least.”  […] The best moment of our lives was one quiet repeated day of work in our house. Not everyone understood. Visitors, especially from New York, would spend a weekend with us and say as they left: “It’s really pretty here” (“in Vermont,” many added) “with your house, the pond, the hills, but … but … but … what do you do?”

What we did: we got up early in the morning. I brought Jane coffee in bed. She walked the dog as I started writing, then climbed the stairs to work at her own desk on her own poems. We had lunch. We lay down together. We rose and worked at secondary things. I read aloud to Jane; we played scoreless ping-pong; we read the mail; we worked again. We ate supper, talked, read books sitting across from each other in the living room, and went to sleep. If we were lucky the phone didn’t ring all day… Three hundred and thirty days a year we inhabited this old house and the same day’s adventurous routine.

~ Donald Hall, The Third Thing from The Poetry Magazine.

Donald Hall, 87, is an American poet, writer, editor and literary critic. Hall is the author of over 50 books across several genres from children’s literature, biography, memoir, essays, and including 22 volumes of verse. Regarded as a “plainspoken, rural poet,” Hall’s work “explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature.”

He married poet Jane Kenyon in 1972. Three years after they were wed, they moved to Eagle Pond Farm, his grandparents’ former home in Wilmot, New Hampshire.  In 1989, when Hall was in his early sixties, it was discovered that he had colon cancer. Surgery followed, but by 1992 the cancer had metastasized to his liver. After another operation, and chemotherapy, he went into remission, though he was told that he only had a one-in-three chance of surviving the next five years. Then, early in 1994, it was discovered that Kenyon had leukemia. Her illness, her death fifteen months later, and Hall’s struggle to come to terms with these things, were the subject of his 1998 book, Without. Another book of poems dedicated to Kenyon, Painted Bed, is cited by Publishers Weekly as “more controlled, more varied and more powerful, this taut follow-up volume reexamines Hall’s grief while exploring the life he has made since. The book’s first poem, ‘Kill the Day,’ stands among the best Hall has ever written. It examines mourning in 16 long-lined stanzas, alternating catalogue with aphorism, understatement with keened lament: ‘How many times will he die in his own lifetime?’

Sources: Quote – Brain Pickings. Photo: Poetry Dispatch


  1. Tears…I should have read this later in the day…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To be content, allowing life to be with us and not to be in a constant search of it, is to live! Great post David.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. this is the best kind of life in my eyes. sharing the comfortable, simple, slow routines of a day with someone you care for.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. They lived a life of bliss together…very sad for something so peaceful and so fulfilling to end.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. From the depth of my Soul, I understand this: “understatement with keened lament: ‘How many times will he die in his own lifetime?’” it has been a few very rough days for me…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am so impressed by this story of your life. I do not think there’s anything to say.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. No matter what age we are, it’s always sad to lose a partner.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Heartfelt and beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A poignant reminder, that I do not know the griefs and sorrows, the struggles of people I may be so quick to judge or quick to assume how grand their lives are. My assumptions… are most likely invalid. A good Monday reminder for a little more human kindness. Thank you for sharing David.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. His pain and continued grief is palpable…and heartbreaking. But how lovely that he has spun these threads of sorrow into something so beautiful and so illustrative to others. Brings to mind a poem that I love in a collection from Tess Gallagher called ‘What Cathal Said.’

    “You can sing sweet
    and get the song sung
    but to get to the third dimension
    you have to sing it
    rough, hurt the tune a little. Put
    enough strength to it
    that the notes slip. Then
    something else happens. The song
    gets large.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Scoreless ping pong”…marvelous.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. So many people never know true love. This is such a reminder of what it means.

    Liked by 1 person

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