The current poet laureate of the United States, Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928.
On making the appointment, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “Donald Hall is one of America’s most distinctive and respected literary figures. For more than 50 years, he has written beautiful poetry on a wide variety of subjects that are often distinctly American and conveyed with passion.”
Hall received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1951, and in 1953 his bachelor’s in literature from Oxford University.
After retiring from a tenured teaching position at the University of Michigan in 1975, Hall returned to Eagle Pond Farm in rural New Hampshire, to the house where his grandmother and mother were born.
Hall was married for 23 years to the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. In 1998, he published “Without,” a collection of poems expressing his grief over Kenyon’s death.
Hall has published 15 books of poetry, beginning with “Exiles and Marriages” in 1955. Earlier this year, he brought out “White Apples and the Taste of Stone”, a selection of poems 1946-2006. In 2005 he published “The Best Day The Worst Day,” a memoir of his marriage to Kenyon. Among his children’s books, “Ox-Cart Man” won the Caldecott Medal. Among his many books of prose are his essays on poetry, “Breakfast Served Any Time All Day” (2003).
He has two children from his first marriage and five grandchildren.
Mount Kearsarge by Donald Hall
Great blue mountain! Ghost.
I look at you
from the porch of the farmhouse
where I watched you all summer
as a boy. Steep sides, narrow flat
patch on top –
you are clear to me
like the memory of one day.
The top of the mountain floats
I will not walk on this porch
when I am old. I turn my back on you,
Kearsarge, I close
my eyes, and you rise inside me,
The Ship Pounding by Donald Hall
Each morning I made my way
among gangways, elevators,
and nurses’ pods to Jane’s room
to interrogate the grave helpers
who tended her through the night
while the ship’s massive engines
kept its propellers turning.
Week after week, I sat by her bed
with black coffee and the Globe.
The passengers on this voyage
wore masks or cannulae
or dangled devices that dripped
chemicals into their wrists.
I believed that the ship
traveled to a harbor
of breakfast, work, and love.
I wrote: “When the infusions
are infused entirely, bone
marrow restored and lymphoblasts
remitted, I will take my wife,
bald as Michael Jordan,
back to our dog and day.” Today,
months later at home, these
words turned up on my desk
as I listened in case Jane called
for help, or spoke in delirium,
ready to make the agitated
drive to Emergency again
for readmission to the huge
vessel that heaves water month
after month, without leaving
port, without moving a knot,
without arrival or destination,
its great engines pounding.
Affirmation by Donald Hall
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything
Donald Hall, Copyright © 1998 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.