Donald Hall, poet, essayist, lover of nature, baseball, Jane Kenyon, Henry Moore, and much else, died last Saturday. He was 89. Hall was a man deeply connected to the farm where he lived for many years in New Hampshire. He wrote of it eloquently in Seasons at Eagle Pond and in many of his finest poems. His own life had four full seasons.
I first fell for his magic in 1978 with the title poem in the book, Kicking the Leaves. I have read it every October since. In seven sections, all connected by walking through leaves in autumn, Hall gathers many strands of life and family, light and dark, the everyday and the ineffable.
He was married for almost 25 years to the poet Jane Kenyon, who was 20 years younger than Hall but who died of leukemia in 1995. Out of that loss and his grief came one of his finest books, Without. Another book I particularly like is Life Work, which is a paean to work wherever and however one does it. In it he tells one of my favorite stories about the sculptor Henry Moore and his ability to stay vital in work deep into his life. Hall had written a long profile of Moore in the New Yorker in the 1960s which later was turned into a book. At one juncture Hall (not really expecting a serious reply) asked, “Now that you are eighty, you must know the secret of life. What is the secret of life?” And Moore replied, “The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is–it must be something you cannot possibly do!”
Hall loved that reply. Let it be said that he published his last book last summer, titled A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. He, like Henry Moore, kept working every day, kept getting it right.