Review: The Poetry of Jane Kenyon


Gregory Orr once called Jane Kenyon “Our Lady of Sorrows.” She most certainly is.

Jane Kenyon’s life was tragic. She struggled her whole life with depression, and her husband of twenty-some years, Donald Hall, nearly died of cancer shortly before she was diagnosed with leukemia. She died at age forty-seven.

But with the sadness comes the sacred. Keats was Kenyon’s favorite poet, and from him she learned of the “negative capability” of the poet to dwell in states of mystery and doubt. She translated the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, at Robert Bly’s recommendation, and fell in love with lyrical poetry and the “luminous particular,” communicating the mysterious through life’s details.

Kenyon’s _Collected Poems_ detail the depths of her quiet country life, reflecting her love of gardening and nature:

_Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered_
_by their own luxuriance: I had_
_to prop them up with stakes and twine._

She also left us a stirring account of her battle against depression, especially in “Having it out with Melancholy”:

_You taught me to exist without gratitude._
_You ruined my manners toward God._

_Simply Lasting_ is the essential companion to a complete understanding of Kenyon’s life and work, with essays by noted poets and friends such as Alice Mattison, Robert Bly, Wendell Berry and others. I recommend reading the two together for a life-altering experience of Jane Kenyon, the woman and the poet.

*_Collected Poems_ by Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press)*
*_Simply Lasting: Writers on Jane Kenyon_ by Joyce Peseroff (Graywolf Press)*