Notes from the Other Side
I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.
Now there is no more catching
one's own eye in the mirror,
there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course
no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing
of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.
The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,
and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.
Is she talking of heaven here? I hope so. I've been swimming in a few of Jane Kenyon's melancholy poems, and I needed one on a more hopeful note. This one too is hopeful:
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 fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
I found this quote from Kenyon where she summarizes what being a poet is to her:
"The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important and yet so difficult to name. The poet’s job is to find a name for everything; to be a fearless finder of the names of things; to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language. I think it’s very serious stuff, art; it’s not just decoration. The other job the poet has is to console in the face of the inevitable disintegration of loss and death, all of the tough things we have to face as humans. We have the consolation of beauty, of one soul extending to another soul and saying, 'I’ve been there too.'”
There is a summary of an interview by John Timmerman with Kenyon for Mars Hill Journal here.
Kenyon's poetry is rich with images, yet very accessible. I think people struggling with depression or illness would find a empathetic soul in her, as she so often dealt with depression and then, of course, with cancer.
For me, I just love her "luminous particular:" that ability to see what transcendant truth was behind the ordinary.