Jane Kenyon grew up on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a rural road across from a working farm, which instilled in her a love for country living and gardening. The household was alive with music, which nurtured Kenyon’s lifelong love for all musical forms. Kenyon’s father, Reuel Kenyon, was a jazz musician who had toured Europe before returning to the United States during the Depression era to play nightclubs. At one such club, he met Pauline, an eighteen-year-old nightclub singer. After marrying, they settled down near Ann Arbor, taking their love of and talent for music with them. In addition to playing clubs, Reuel started teaching piano. When Jane’s older brother, Reuel, Jr., was born, her mother, a skilled seamstress, began taking in commissioned work and providing sewing lessons. Music still dominated the house. Two upright pianos stood in the living room; a large phonograph stood in the hallway. Jane fell asleep at night listening to the strains of classical music drifting up to her second-story bedroom.
Jane Kenyon attended a rural, one-room schoolhouse (with only three other children in her grade level) from kindergarten through the fourth grade. In the fifth grade, she began riding a bus to a large Ann Arbor school. Nearly nine hundred students were in her graduating high school class. The greatest influences on her development during her school years were her relationship with her grandmother, Dora Kenyon, the subject of several poems and essays, and the receipt of a book of poetry. Kenyon’s grandmother, a devoutly religious woman who believed that the Apocalypse could come at any moment, followed a rigorous body of rules to ensure her salvation and expected her granddaughter to follow them as well. Kenyon did not take kindly to her grandmother’s theology, and by the time she was in junior high, she had renounced all religious practices....
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