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The Poetry of Caregiving

abandoned poems, an old phone list in her handwriting, a row of herbs in the kitchen with her lettering on the labels. Each such discovery tugs him back to her absence.

Hall and Kenyon—who had not been religious before their move to New Hampshire—attended a local church together after they settled in Wilmot. So has faith been a consolation for Hall? "Her faith," he says, "was stronger than mine." He attends church more for the community than the communion. Art, he feels, has been more the important source of succor for him.

On the black marble monument that guards Kenyon's grave, in a cemetery just five miles from Eagle Pond Farm, Hall inscribed some lines from one of her own poems. They are from a poem that she wrote in 1992—when it was Hall whose body was in cancer's grip, when she believed that he was probably going to die:

I believe in the miracles of art, but what
prodigy will keep you safe beside me?

—Jane Kenyon
From "Afternoon at MacDowell"

In his 1992 book, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, Hall wrote about old poets he had known, and writers in general, getting old. He recently reread the book in preparation for a speaking engagement. "When writers are young," he says, "they are driven by dissatisfaction, by a desire to get it right. They are ambitious. But when death is imminent, they lose that ambition and then their desire to write. They may, as Thomas Hardy wrote, lapse into doggerel, or, like Wordsworth, write more

Hall's study, dominated by his rolltop desk, is in the first-floor room with the light on; Kenyon's is upstairs, in the dormered room to the right of the tree.

In most regards, the house is the way it was when the two lived there together. Hall continues, 13 years later, to find things that were Kenyon's—a box of abandoned poems, a phone list in her handwriting. Each such discovery tugs him back to her absence.

and more about despondency and madness."

Listening to Hall talk about depression and the inability to write, one wonders if

he ever contemplates his own death.

Is this poet—who has spent so much time in death's company, both in life and on the page—afraid of death? "I am," he admits, "afraid of the act of
death. I am not afraid of the deaths of others."

It saddens Hall to think that he will die, as he puts it, "without a wife." It's a phrase that sounds at once old-fashioned and timeless, almost biblical, as though he means the word "wife" in its most expansive sense—friend, helpmeet, partner, lover.

As though he is caring for her still.

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Susan Reynolds is a staff writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, for whose pages she has also written about Hall's work. This is her first feature for Dartmouth Medicine.

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