We’re coming up on the holiday season.
Much has been made of what a difficult time this is for so many people. And for heaven’s sake, you’d think a person would be crazy to be joyful when the waters are rising, the climate is going crazy, school children are being shot, people are dying of starvation.
I could go on and on. We could be weeping. We are weeping.
We lose so much. We lose our health, our mothers and fathers, sometimes our children, even, and yet we find it possible somehow to forgive this fate, Kenyon writes. (This from a poet who suffered major depression in her life.)
She notices simultaneously that people are being joyful. There’s no accounting for that, she says.
Happiness comes to us like the biblical prodigal son who returns after squandering all his inheritance, yet the father kills a calf in his honor.
This makes me think of the poet Anna Kamienska, who writes in another poem, “Make the day rise brightly as if there were no more pain.” The sun comes up and flowers bloom, regardless.
I love the uncle in Kenyon’s poem. He’s a surprise! He’s what happiness is like.
He’s looking for you with his little single-engine plane. He even has to land in the grass. He asks for you everywhere, and finds you, even as you are weeping in despair.
We didn’t even know he existed, yet he searches for us until he finds us.
What else? Kenyon widens her examples.
Happiness also comes to all those other people, some in good circumstances, some in hard times, to those who do good and those who do bad, and to those who just go about their mundane jobs.
Finally, we are to know that happiness comes even to inanimate objects: to the boulder that never sees sun and to the rain falling into the vast ocean where no one sees it fall.
How do we know? We don’t, but surely all things carry the happiness of being themselves.
She saves the most poignant and surprising for last — the wineglass that is tired of holding wine. I thought about that.
A wineglass is such a happy image, filled with wine.
But even the glass gets tired of celebrating. Even tired, even used up, happiness comes to it.
I am going to think of this as a holiday poem this year.
Jane Kenyon is able to take the smallest things and make them matter. She makes them celebrate what they just simply are.
To me, this is the nature of a good poem. It can be about the saddest or most terrible events. But it can do what Aristotle said about Greek tragedy.
It acts as a catharsis. It purifies and purges the emotions. It makes us more human.
Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor and earned both her BA and MA from the University of Michigan.
While a student at the University of Michigan Kenyon met the poet Donald Hall, who taught there.
They married and soon after moved to Eagle Pond, a New Hampshire farm that had been in Hall’s family for generations.
She published four collections of poetry in her life.
She was New Hampshire’s poet laureate when she died of leukemia at age 47.