Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Donald Hall wrote the various sections in The One Day over seventeen years, but it seems to be one continuous, energetic utterance. This unity of mind and purpose drives the book toward its inevitable conclusion: Hall’s statement about ecstatic renewal and the resolution of past conflicts. It is a poem about the cycle of life and about how, in declining years, one attempts evaluations about beginnings and endings. Hall’s most important summary statement comes near the end of the book: “We are one cell perpetually/ dying and being born, led by a single day that presides/ over our passage through the thirty thousand days/ from highchair past work and love to suffering death.”

Hall emphasizes the need to build a house in one’s mind—to come to an understanding of the various conflicting voices and disappointments that life offers. The poem concerns a search for order both within and without. People need to deal with sorrow and suffering on the way to building the shelter of personal acceptance. Building this house of understanding also involves social order, because once one has established shelter, one can relate fully to others and feel that life has meaning, mostly achieved through work. The poem is both spiritual and temporal because Hall discusses the failures of marriage, family, and career. The tone of expansiveness and resolution puts an optimistic ending on this sophisticated, elegant book. The poet has been able to follow the advice of his father, who told...

(The entire section is 611 words.)