A candid memoir of love, art, and grief from a celebrated man of letters, United States poet laureate Donald Hall
In an intimate record of his twenty-three-year marriage to poet Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall recounts the rich pleasures and the unforeseen trials of their shared life. The couple made a home at their New England farmhouse, where they rejoiced in rituals of writing, gardening, caring for pets, and connecting with their rural community through friends and church. The Best Day the Worst Day presents a portrait of the inner moods of "the best marriage I know about," as Hall has written, against the stark medical emergency of Jane's leukemia, which ended her life in fifteen months. Between recollections of better times, Hall shares with readers the daily ordeal of Jane's dying through heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring storytelling.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||(w) x (h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
DONALD HALL (1928-2018) served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Donald Hall is US Poet Laureate, and I heard him read his poetry recently. He read a paragraph from this book about the last 15 months with his late wife, and I knew I wanted to read it. Jane died in her mid-forties from leukemia. This book is about grief and the absolute obsession illness necessarily becomes, but it is a book about hope of what the relationship of two individuals can be. Donald was 20 years older than Jane, and had been diagnosed with cancer. It has been assumed he would die¿not Jane.¿Animals in the House¿ was a delightful chapter about their cats and dogs. Donald writes with a back and forth motion of being in the present pain with Jane and her illness, and then gently returning to the past and the richness of its ordinariness.My favorite quote¿What we did: love. We did not spend our days gazing into each other¿s eyes. We did that gazing when we made love or when one of us was in trouble, but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing. Third things are essential to marriages, objects or practices or habits or arts or institutions or games or human beings that provide a site of joint rapture or contentment. Each member of a couple is separate; the two come together in double attention.¿About relationshipBefore marriage, ¿Neither Jane nor I said `I love you.¿ Maybe both of us feared that `love¿ was a synonym for `pain¿¿and we were feeling only pleasure together, light pleasure.¿¿Music was such a passion for Jane. ¿it was enthralling to sit beside her and feel the ecstasy breathe from her body. I am musically stupid ¿ but I took in music by attending to Jane.¿¿We quarreled rarely; we were careful or cautious with each other. ¿ We investigated the miraculous notion that people could live together and be courteous, remain wary of the other¿s feelings.¿¿Through bouts of ping-pong and Henry James and the church, we kept to one innovation: With rare exceptions, we remained aware of each other¿s feelings. It took me half my life, more than half, to discover with Jane¿s guidance that two people could live together and remain kind.¿¿When we looked over one another¿s work, it was essential that we never lie to each other. Even when Jane was depressed, I never praised a poem unless I meant it¿ If either of us had felt that the other was pulling punches, it would have ruined what was so essential to our house.¿¿The double and separate psychiatric help we had received was useful in our marriage by letting us understand that each carried burdens that the other could do nothing about. This separateness, in the usual way of the psyche, helped bring us together.¿¿Even at such a Christmas, I wanted to give her something that exceeded good sense, something extravagant and female.¿¿As I heard her stories from Russia, I suddenly burst into tears. I was hurt that she had gone without me. She was surprised, taken aback; what had she done wrong? She looked down, without speaking, and, after a pause, quietly said, `I am cold, like my mother.¿ Jane was not cold, but she was less needy than I was. In most marriages I have known, the husbands have been needier than their wives.¿About dreams¿I discarded the daydream. Now in one sentence Jane rehabilitated my old desire. ¿ It seemed possible that the fantasy of childhood could become the reality of middle age. ¿Freud says somewhere¿it doesn¿t sound like Freud¿that an adult¿s greatest bliss is the fulfillment of a dream from childhood.¿Imagery I like¿fatigue rising like shadows at night¿¿the mind must make room for what it may not avoid¿¿The mind needed constantly to remind itself: This is not dying-dying; we suffer this dying to avoid that dying.¿¿death minimizes hangnails¿¿Winter¿s imagined garden always shone brighter than summer¿s real one, which was subject to moles and chipmunks, to drought and thunderstorm.¿About illness¿In our twenty years at Eagle Pond, Jane and I lived by routine, repeating the same motions in our big old hou
Although this is so overtly a chronicle of losing a loved one, about the horrors of cancer and its various treatments, it is also a very real picture of what makes a good and lasting marriage. Although Hall and Kenyon knew the odds of their union lasting were very slim, given the 19-year age difference and her bipolar illness, they took the plunge, Hall noting that "all marriages start in ignorance and need; what matters is what you do after you marry." Fifty-five pages later, Hall affirms what makes their marriage last - "What we did: love. We did not spend our days gazing into each other's eyes. We did that gazing when we made love or when one of us was in trouble, but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing. Third things are essential to marriages ... Each member of a couple is separate. The two come together in double attention." He speaks further of what, for them, constituted those "third things" - John Keats, the BSO, children, pets, or Eagle Pond. The twenty-three years Hall and Kenyon had together had their ups and downs to be sure, but in the end love prevailed. This book is Hall's very personal love song, written just for Jane. Read it and learn what love is really all about.
An excellent read that captures the beautyof ordinary days that make up our life.