Jane Kenyon, Poet
I chose Jane Kenyon for today’s post for A2Z April Challenge. Her poetry can be both simple and profound with its images of domestic life in rural New Hampshire. She suffered from depression her entire life which she in turn employed as inspiration for poems. Use of literary devices such as metaphor and description are evident in her work. Details of the land and family relationships are beautifully woven into her writing. Kenyon’s work is worth studying. We are fortunate to have access to her poetry collections. I intend to read more of her beautiful poems.
Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks
By Jane Kenyon
I am food on the prisoner’s plate. . . .
presented to the widow. . . .
Jane Kenyon was born on May 23, 1947, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and grew up in the Midwest. She earned a BA from the University of Michigan in 1970 and an MA in 1972. That same year, Kenyon married the poet Donald Hall, whom she had met while studying at the University of Michigan.
Kenyon published four books of poetry during her lifetime: Constance (Graywolf Press, 1993), Let Evening Come (Graywolf Press, 1990), The Boat of Quiet Hours (Graywolf Press, 1986), and From Room to Room (Alice James Books, 1978), as well as a book of translation, Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Ally Press, 1985). She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1981.
In December 1993 she and Hall were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary, “A Life Together.” She was named poet laureate of New Hampshire in 1995 and died of leukemia on on April 22 of that year.
Poetry Foundation’s biography page for Jane Kenyon has an analysis of her work.
“Despite her relatively small output, her poetry was highly lauded by critics throughout her lifetime. As fellow poet Carol Muske remarked in the New York Times when describing Kenyon’s The Boat of Quiet Hours, “These poems surprise beauty at every turn and capture truth at its familiar New England slant. Here, in Keats’s terms, is a capable poet.” Indeed, Kenyon’s work has often been compared with that of English Romantic poet John Keats; in an essay on Kenyon for Contemporary Women Poets, Gary Roberts dubbed her a “Keatsian poet” and noted that, “like Keats, she attempts to redeem morbidity with a peculiar kind of gusto, one which seeks a quiet annihilation of self-identity through identification with benign things. Kenyon explored nature’s cycles in other ways: the fall of light from day descriptive skills… as notable as her dramatic ones. Her rendering of natural settings, in lines of well-judged rhythm and simple syntax, contribute to the [volume’s] memorableness. to dusk to night, and the cycles of relationships with family and friends throughout a long span of years brought to a close by death, and her work in this regard has been compared with that of the late poet Sylvia Plath. Comparing the two, Breslin wrote that “Kenyon’s language is much quieter, less self-dramatizing” than that of Plath, and where the earlier poet “would give herself up, writing her lyrical surrender to oblivion,… Kenyon fought to the end. In Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (1996), a posthumous collection containing twenty poems written just prior to her death as well as several taken from her earlier books, Kenyon “chronicles the uncertainty of living as culpable, temporary creatures,” according to Nation contributor Emily Gordon. “