November 9th, 2007


Poetry Friday -- Happiness

This week I've been thinking about illness and health. 

I guess there's something about my age that makes my awareness of it keener than its been before. 

Maybe because I've got my own higglety-pigglety little cricks and creaks these days. 
Maybe because my parents are older and my grandparents are gone. 
Maybe because my children are vigorous, tall, rosy and robust -- and I cannot fathom what life would be like if it were otherwise. 

Health is one of those things that I used to take for granted and now I'm busy taking tinctures and doling out vitamins and knocking on wood every chance I get.

So this morning I found myself with Jane Kenyon, a poet I go to for beauty and comfort and emotional resonance over and over and over again. Every so often I post about Books I Wish I'd Written, and I mean it as a form of flattery rather than greed or jealousy. There is a lot of poetry I wish I'd written, but Jane Kenyon's is pretty high up on the stack. 

There is a poignancy to nearly every word she ever wrote -- 
whether describing love or long grass, shopping or melancholy. 
There is a specificity that's exquisite and yet, a simplicity that's intimate and almost relaxed. 
There is an honesty that is both brutal and tender.

The surface story of Kenyon's life looked charmed. 
She lived as a poet on a farm in New Hampshire with the love of her life, another poet.
Is that the writer's dream, or what?
But illness haunted Kenyon like a needy dog. 
She saw her husband through numerous rounds in the ring with cancer.
She suffered an often crippling depression.
And in the end, she died in her 40's of leukemia.

I remember when she did. I'd plucked my copy of The New Yorker out of the mailbox and begun to read, from back to front, and kept encountering poems by Kenyon. I was delighted. Until I got to the very first one that included a note of her passing. That my reading had been elegiac I had no idea...

Kenyon wrote about all of this -- about being a worried wife, about depression, about dying. 
She is how I'm thinking about illness and health and happiness today. 

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.

Read the rest of the poem here...