Otherwise – by Jane Kenyon

This moving collection of poetry was compiled during the last months of the poet’s life, as she was battling leukemia. It contains selections from her previously published otherwisecollections of poetry, as well as a number of new poems. The story of its compilation is told in the afterword, written by Jane Kenyon’s husband (former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall). Crying while reading an afterword was a new experience for me.

The poetry itself is beautiful, and very accessible. The themes center around daily life. Sometimes it’s the poignancy of the little things: the healing found by seeing sunlight on a warm rock, the solidarity with the past caused by finding an old thimble on the floor, the quiet joy of watching children at play. Other times it’s the more difficult things: the visit to an elderly relative in a nursing home, the oppressive reality of a difficult prognosis, the rawness of a funeral. Her poems aren’t often happy-go-lucky, but they’re always tender and real.

ladder
Ms. Kenyon writes with spare simplicity and startling imagery. The majority of her poems are very readable, written in free verse without many complex structures. They’re striking in their genuineness and poignancy. Here’s a taste of her style:

The Suitor

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

curtain

4 thoughts on “Otherwise – by Jane Kenyon

  1. Linnae

    Hi Beth!
    I found your blog through Sunlit Pages. I have enjoyed reading through some of your past reviews this morning. I will add you to my blog list!
    I just started a combination books and gardening blog. You are welcome to stop by for a visit any time. 🙂

    Like

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