The barn bears the weight
of the first heavy snow
White breath of cows
rises in the tire-up, a man
wearing a frayed winter jacket
reaches for his milking stool
in the dark.
The cows have gone into the ground,
and the man,
his wife beside him now.
A nuthatch drops
to the ground, feeding
on sunflower seed and bits of bread
I scattered on the snow.
The cats doze near the stove.
They lift their heads
as the plow goes down the road,
making the house
tremble as it passes.
(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)
I love accessible poetry, and the late Jane Kenyon's spare poems, rich in images of the particulars of everyday life and yet simple and direct, typify all that I like about poetry. Yes, all, because Kenyon ultimately connected to the Universal behind all those (as her husband Donald Hall called them) "luminous particulars" of her poetry as she came to faith in God.
Kenyon died in 1995 at the age of 48 of leukemia after many years of writing poems rooted in the particulars of life on and around her New Hampshire farm. She had two great struggles in life: the lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which gave her over to bouts of depression, and then to cancer, which ultimately took her life. And yet she lived well. She noticed things. Her poems have the effect of drawing the reader in where you ultimately make the poem your own. For example, in "This Morning," I can feel what it must have been like there on that New Hampshire farm, and then I am transported to my childhood room, waking up and "hearing" the snow outside, just knowing that the quiet means it has fallen, listening for the sounds of my parents, for the smell of coffee and eggs, joyful at the prospect of another school cancellation and an impromptu holiday. The images are different, the setting suburbia and not a New England farm, but the poem has worked its magic on me. Kenyon has done her job. She has made me remember and feel something rich.
On of her own favorite poems was the following, called "Let Evening Come."
Let the light of late afternoon shine through the chinks in the barn
moving up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take of chaffing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn.
Let evening come.
Let dew collect in the hoe abandoned in long grass.
Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down.
Let the shed go black inside.
Let evening come.
To the bottle in a ditch,
to the scoop in the oats,
to the air in the lung,
let evening come.
Let it come as it will and don’t be afraid.
God does not leave us comfortless.
So, let evening come.
God does not leave us comfortless. I encourage you to read Jane Kenyon. You'll find the true, the good, and the beautiful among her words.