Otherwise Essay - Critical Essays

Jane Kenyon


As contemporary poets like Allen Ginsberg or Robert Creeley remain actively productive through their mature years, the myth of the romantic poet burning briefly and dying early has lost some of its hold on the literate public’s imagination. However, when an instance of mythic resonance occurs, the power and poignancy of the archetype are demonstrated anew. Jane Kenyon, the author of four volumes of poetry in which a sure, supple, and distinctively singular voice gained strength and range, died of leukemia in April of 1995 at the age of forty-seven after a fifteen-month struggle with the disease. During the last months of her life, she selected and arranged poems from the previous volumes and chose twenty new poems not yet published in book form to open the collection.

Although there is an impressive command of craft in the earliest work, the tone of the first poems is somewhat tentative as Kenyon records her responses to the New England countryside and social community which she joined when she moved with her husband, the esteemed writer Donald Hall, to his family lodging in New Hampshire. The features of the landscape, the ways of the weather, the developing and deepening sense of her relationship with Hall and her interest in other people and in wild and domestic animals are important elements in Kenyon’s poetry.

Her uncertainty about how to handle “the shadow of depression,” however, hinders her responses to the things she loved at...

(The entire section is 488 words.)