The Selected Poems of Donald Hall

Donald Hall’s art bears witness to the effects of time.  Names of Horses, about the life and death of farm animals, and Old Timers’ Day, about an aging ball player, are two examples. If we live with animals, we watch them age and die. If we follow sports as spectators, we watch athletes we admire diminish and fade to the sidelines of their arenas and fields. There is a sweet and tragic beauty in this arc of life’s natural course.

The disruption of the natural course of life, in disease and violence, provides another focus of Hall’s work. His poems about his wife Jane Kenyon’s death of cancer occupied him for a long time. This poem tells how violence of war leaves a silence that routines at home must cover, in time.

1943

They toughened us for war. In the high school auditorium
Ed Monahan knocked out Dominick Esposito in the first round

for the heavyweight finals, and ten months later Dom died
in the third wave at Tarawa. Every morning of the war

our Brock-Hall Dairy delivered milk from the horse-drawn wagons
to wooden back porches in southern Connecticut. In the winter,

frozen cream lifted the carboard lids of glass bottles.
grade A or grade B, while Marines bled to death in the surf,

or the right engine faltered into Channel silt, or troops marched
–what could we do–with frostbitten feet as white as milk.

from the postscript

When I was twelve I wrote my first poem, and by fourteen I decide that’s what I’d do my whole life. I don’t regret it…Most of my life I have worked on poems each morning, fiddling with everything…Over the years I felt my poems gradually diminish. I lost my powers as everyone does….How could I complain after seventy years of ambition and pleasure?  -Donald Hall

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