The former U.S. poet laureate presents the essential work from across his long and celebrated career in this sweeping collection.
For decades, Donald Hall produced a body of work that established him as one of America’s most significant—and beloved—poets of his generation. Celebrated for his plainspoken yet evocative imagery and his stirring explorations of bucolic life, Hall won numerous awards, including the Robert Frost Medal, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the National Medal of Arts.
When Hall reached his eighties, his health began to decline, and he announced that the ability to write poems has “abandoned” him. Looking back over his astonishingly rich body of work, Hall hand-picked his finest and most memorable poems for this final, concise, and essential volume.
Hall, onetime U.S. Poet Laureate, has been publishing careful, plainspoken poems since the 1950s, but his real powers showed up later. In the 1970s he settled with poet Jane Kenyon in a New Hampshire farmhouse to chronicle rural New England and its history, its "little mountain valleys and brooks." After Kenyon's death in 1995, Hall's lines shot forth with the bleak energy of grief, sometimes scarily sad, sometimes deceptively pedestrian ("Ordinary days were best,/ when we worked over poems/ in our separate rooms"). The laments, the complaints, the bittersweet recollections of tough times, and the sweeter depictions of roses and maple syrup, quiet mountains, and "Connecticut suburbs/ where I grew up" all return here in this fine introduction to a poet who has tried hard to be America's Horace: a learned exponent of humble, retired life. Hall's best work combines these goals with a very dry humor, an almost too-mild regret; much of it stretches out over pages at an unrhymed, close-cut, dignified length. Hall has announced that he no longer writes poetry (though he still writes essays), so this more severe cull (compared to 2006's White Apples and the Taste of Stone) parades the poems he most wants to preserve: the culling itself may attract attention, but so will Hall's own understated gifts.