Donald Hall began his career writing formalistic, four-line stanzas with rhyme schemes. The poems’ topics vary, but they tend to be emotionally distant reflections. “Elegy for Wesley Wells” in Hall’s first major book, Exiles and Marriages, however, is marked by a more reflective and impassioned voice, anticipating a major theme in subsequent books: the celebration of life and the mourning of death.
Hall’s general pattern of development as a poet begins with objectivity, moves to surrealism and diversity, and culminates with the use of multiple voices. Imaginative texture, experimentation with free verse, and the use of personas increase throughout Hall’s work. He writes on a bewildering variety of topics: the changing nature of rural New England, the individual’s relationship with history, the classical world of Greek myth, youth and old age, religious artifacts and ceremonies, the fragmentation of the modern world, the world of art, airplanes and crashes, sexuality and parenthood, patterns of thought, and the cycle of birth, life, and death. Hayden Carruth believes that Hall sees the past as better than the present—the values of Hall’s grandparents were “more humane and reasonable than the values of their descendants.”
Hall’s poetry can be best appreciated through attention to five fundamental motifs that run throughout his work: grandfather, grandmother, father, Eagle Pond farm, and Mount Kearsarge. Each...
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