Donald Hall lives on the farm in New Hampshire that once belonged to his great-grandparents. He attended Harvard and Oxford, and in 1953 he became poetry editor of The Paris Review; this gave him the opportunity to interview such poets as Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Although Hall’s first collection Exiles and Marriages (1955) brought him early success, he now says, “I no longer like very much of it.” Most critics believe his recent poetry is his best.
When he and his wife — the poet Jane Kenyon, who was 19 years younger than Hall — moved from Michigan to the New Hampshire farm, they visited the South Danbury Church on that first Sunday. The minister quoted Rilke in his sermon, which surprised Hall. He said when interviewed for The Paris Review, “It began from a social feeling, but moved on—from community to communion.” The couple became regular attenders, were reading the Gospels and early Christian writing, and soon the atheism he had decided on at age 12 melted away. He hesitantly discusses his faith, as it seems to make others embarrassed.
In 1995, after 23 years of marriage, Jane Kenyon died of leukemia. This hole in his life is significant in his subsequent writing. Donald Hall was appointed poet laureate of the United States in 2006.
Christmas party at the South Danbury Church
we gather at the white Church festooned
red and green, the tree flashing
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School
recite Scripture, sing songs,
and scrape out solos,
they retire to dress for the finale,
to perform the pageant
again: Mary and Joseph kneeling
cradleside, Three Kings,
shepherds and shepherdesses. Their garments
are bathrobes with mothholes,
cut down from the Church's ancestors.
Standing short and long,
they stare in all directions for mothers,
sisters and brothers,
giggling and waving in recognition,
and at the South Danbury
Church, a moment before Santa
arrives with her ho-hos
and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark
of whole silence, God
enters the world as a newborn again.
The warmth of cows
-----That chewed on hay
-----As small He lay.
Chickens and sheep
-----Knew He was there
Because all night
A holy light
-----Suffused the air.
Darkness was long
-----And the sun brief
When the Christ arose
A man of sorrows
-----And friend to grief.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca