Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Comforts of All Kinds

Today is the birthday of Jane Kenyon.  If I was teaching an American Lit survey class, I'd include her as a poet who has done more than perhaps any other poet to show us what it's like to live with depression.  What I especially like about her work is that she shows that there's more to her life and work than just the depression.  My favorite poem of hers is "Otherwise," which you can find here.

Or is my favorite "Having It Out with Melancholy"?  Read it here and contrast it with "Otherwise."  Just that simple exercise shows her range.

I love her simplicity, which hides a complexity--read "Let Evening Come" here and see what I mean.  It's a great poem to show your writing students the value of repetition, the value of syllabics.

What I find interesting about my love of her is that even with knowledge of her depression, her life on the farm with soulmate and fellow poet Donald Hall sounds so idyllic.  Read this essay of his and see if you don't agree.

Of course, reading that essay, I'm haunted by the knowledge that Kenyon will die young of leukemia.  Idyllic life will only last so long and take you so far.

The loss of Jane Kenyon led Donald Hall to write some of the most searing poems of grief I've ever read.  Once, long ago, I subscribed to The Threepenny Review.  I was back and forth between the town where I worked and the town where my spouse was going to grad school, and it was getting to be exhausting.  I got the issue which presented Hall's "Letter in Autumn," which you can read here.  When I got to those last lines, that longing to be a tree, I wept.  I still haven't found the courage to read his collected poems of grief, Without.    I should find a copy of it and keep it--at some point, I expect to have some heavy grieving to do as I outlive everyone I love (unless, of course, a freak accident takes me out earlier).

Today is also the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, who is most famous for her children's book, Goodnight Moon.  I didn't have this book as part of my childhood, but years later, I read it over and over again to my nephew.  I came to understand its appeal.

In fact, there have been many times that I wished I had my own copy.  I fancied it would be soothing.

Out of those longings, came these two poems.  I wrote the first poem, which I then reworked into a sonnet.

Goodnight Moon

Even though the children are grown and gone,
she still sings at night.
Fretful memories haunt the house.
So she does what she always
did, for twenty years, before childhood ended.

She heats the milk in a pan, pours
it into calming Christmas mugs (no matter the season), dusts
each with a sprinkle of nutmeg. She goes
from room to room, checking closet doors
and dimming lights. And she sings
the special lullabies, that repertoire of sleepy songs.

He sits in the armchair in the den
and sips his mug of milk.
The cats linger in his lap
as he leafs through the books his children used to love.

In the sonnet version below, the last 2 lines are from Brown's book:
Goodnight Moon

She still sings at night,
though her children are grown.
Her songs soothed their fright,
and they now soothe her own.

He sits in his chair
with the cats gathered round.
They all sit and stare
mesmerized by the song’s sound.

She brings him warm milk in an old Christmas mug
with a dash of nutmeg on top.
They read the old books, stretched out on the rug
until sleep makes them stop.

“Goodnight stars, Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere.”


Hannah Stephenson said...

I love Goodnight, Moon, and I love Jane Kenyon.

I know just what you mean about her seeming simplicity (and the richness of meaning in it). I've been reading Jan Zwicky lately, and enjoying the same quality.

Wendy said...

Wow did you send me on a journey of discovery with Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall this morning. Thank you.

I didn't grow up with Goodnight Moon either, but I bought it when my girl was little and we have read it over and over. I think it will always have a place on my shelf. I also love My World, its companion book. Runaway Bunny, also by Margaret Wise Brown, I love for the illustrations and its place in Margaret Edson's Wit. (eh. This may become a blog post.)

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Having it Out With Melancholy is one of my favorites too. Thanks for reminding me of it.