Obituary Note: Donald Hall

Donald Hall, "a giant of American poetry," died June 23 at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, N.H., "where he hayed with his grandfather during boyhood summers and later cultivated a writer's life," the Concord Monitor reported. He was 89. Hall was "a literary dynamo, writing poetry, memoir, criticism, magazine articles, plays, short stories and children's books." In addition to winning numerous awards and honors, Hall was appointed U.S. poet laureate in 2006 by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of the Arts in 2010.

He wrote almost to the end of a career that spanned more than 60 years, beginning with the publication at 26 of his poetry collection Exiles and Marriages and continuing through his Essays after Eighty (2014) and soon-to-be-published A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. His last poetry collection, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, was released in 2015.

In 1972, five years after a divorce, Hall married Jane Kenyon, his former student at the University of Michigan. They eventually moved to the New Hampshire farm his family had owned for a century, a decision that "transformed his poetry," beginning with Kicking the Leaves (1978), as well as his life, the Monitor noted, adding that the "Hall-Kenyon literary household peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kenyon wrote two popular collections--Let Evening Come in 1990 and Constance in 1993. Hall turned his poem 'The Ox-Cart Man' into a children's book that sold well for years. His book-length poem, The One Day, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer."

After Kenyon's leukemia diagnosis in 1993 and death at 47 in 1995, Hall's "grief ran long and deep," the Monitor wrote. He shepherded her book Otherwise to publication, appeared at events celebrating her life and work, and wrote poems (Without, 1999; The Painted Bed, 2003) and a memoir (The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, 2006) about losing her. "Twenty years later, he still teared up talking about her," the Monitor noted.

"One does write, indeed, to be loved," Hall told the Boston Globe in 1985. "Fame is another word for love, an impersonal word for love. One wants people 200 years from now to love your poetry. The great pleasure of being a writer is in the act of writing, and surely there is some pleasure in being published and being praised. I don't mean to be complacent about what I have some of. But the greater pleasure is in the act. When you lose yourself in your work, and you feel at one with it, it is like love."

In 2012, he announced that his poetry-writing days were over, and in a New Yorker essay, "Out the Window," he observed: "New poems no longer come to me, with their prodigies of metaphor and assonance. Prose endures. I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It's better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns, and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do."

From his poem "Affirmation":

Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

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