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by Lavonne Neff
An Appetite for the Sun
Jane Kenyon lived the unabashedly romantic life of a poet as imagined by a screenwriter: Graduate student marries middle-aged professor, renouncing academia for poetry, learning rural ways at her husband's ancestral farm, escaping occasionally to foreign parts to enjoy fine food and wine and art, becoming--as did her husband--poet laureate of New Hampshire. She falls victim to debilitating depression, he to cancer. They struggle, they write, they love, they rise above their afflictions-until she, only 46 years old, is diagnosed with leukemia and dies 15 months later.
It is not surprising, then, that Otherwise, Kenyon's posthumous collection, has been widely and favorably reviewed; or that on the anniversary of Kenyon's death, tributes to her were held in New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts, while a 1993 televised interview of Kenyon and her husband, Donald Hall, was rebroadcast on pbs stations in Connecticut.1
Hall, in fact, spent a busy spring reminiscing about his late wife at various poetry festivals, at a luncheon at the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, and with NPR's Terry Gross on Fresh Air.2 His poem-memoir, The Old Life (Houghton Mifflin, 134 pp.; $19.95), is dedicated to Kenyon; its final poem, "Without," is a masterpiece of raw, unmediated grief.
An enormous spiritual hunger
Despite the flurry of interest in Jane Kenyon, both critical and affectionate, it is rarely mentioned that her poetry is suffused with Christian references. When Terry Gross asked Hall if his wife maintained her faith in God throughout her final illness, he showed Yankee reticence: "Yes," he said, and then again: "yes."
Faith did not keep her from suffering, he quickly noted: "Often there were long hours of night when there was no grace present, and there was suffering and despair. . . . I don't mean despair of survival, but despair simply of the immediate circumstances of suffering." The couple's shared faith went beyond words: "We both wanted paradise, and ...