The Story of Leaves

Donald Hall & Jane Kenyon, farmhouse Eagle Pond Farm:

“and the pleasure, the only long pleasure,
of taking a place
in the story of leaves”
(Donald Hall, “Kicking the Leaves,” p. 34)*

Should I feel led to orchestrate another book of poems, I might title the collection “Joy By Surprise” after a line in “From Our Shadows” in W. S. Merwin’s book of summing-up poems Garden Time. I love this book, reading it over and over, befriended by “all these / silent images on their shadowy river” (W. S. Merwin, “Not Early Or Late,” p. 5).

“sadness can rise in us
in the midst of happiness
and joy can take us by surprise
in the midst of great sadness.”
(W. S. Merwin, “From Our Shadows,” p. 7)

Surprise! Yes, I’m laughing out loud now recalling the poetry reading I gave years ago at a local literary bookstore. After the reading, a well-dressed man I had not seen before came up to me, introduced himself as a psychiatrist, and offered his services. I recall laughing then as well.

“we are all here together without knowing it”
(W. S. Merwin, “One October Night,” p. 47)

Of course I recognize that many (most?) of my poems lie down with the imagery of loss and its accompanying sadness, but off the page I have always preferred laughter (sardonic though it may be)–the good craziness, the “right madness” of Richard Hugo’s poem “The Semi-Lunatics of Kilmuir,” p 8.  Since childhood, I have been saved from myself by standing invitations from loud, joyful-noise families and friends.

“joy disappears
to wait for us it may be
where we least expect it”
(W. S. Merwin, “From Our Shadows,” p. 7)

Emmerson Willett

If you have been following my recent Posts, you know their overriding mood has been one of grief for my University friends sinking into the miasma of despair over losses seemingly devoid of consolation. I did offer what I thought was a humorous Post intended to cheer us up, a needed good laugh. Then my counselor wife pointed out that most brokenhearted individuals cannot abide the happiness of people going about their lives as if tomorrow will come.

“Oh, how we flung
leaves in the air! How they tumbled and fluttered around us.”
(Donald Hall, “Kicking the Leaves,” p. 33)

So, mea culpa, I’m offering what I consider a sad, joyful poem sharing the love a couple was granted, a serendipitous May-September marriage in a house each loved, a life of poetry, joy recollected, what I pray for my University friends now securing their “place / in the story of leaves” (Donald Hall, “Kicking the Leaves,” p. 34).

Greg Shield

The Leaves

Donald Hall, 1928-2018
Jane Kenyon, 1947-1995

Who will console the house, the leaves
already scurrying toward the clapboards,
spreading out like the gingham dress
of a young wife twirling giddy
with the farmhouse, its wide front porch,
the swing’s slow pendulum, perpetual
return to her garden of hollyhocks
and morning glories, Crayola box
of zinnias, lilac for remembrance,
the leaves’ complementary colors
hugging the house against snows
the husband and his young wife
cannot anticipate, thinking now only
of the green lush of summer, the path
through the field to the woods
thinning toward the easy crest
of the gentle mountain from which
they will entwine their fingers,
and she, with her free arm, embrace
the golden retriever attentive at her side,
and feast upon this farm, her husband’s
heritage, now hers, pastures of promise
to be passed down to prodigy
who will follow in this unthinkable kingdom
of leaves turning red and orange, wine,
and the brown of earth from which
seed will germinate, a dying and rising,
world where a man and a woman
now swing on the porch, without end.

Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Photo by Robert A. Fink

Works Cited:

*Hall, Donald. Kicking the Leaves: Poems by Donald Hall, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.

Hugo, Richard.  The Right Madness on Skye: Poems. W. W. Norton & Company, 1980.

Merwin, W. S. Garden Time. Copper Canyon Press, 2016.