Another old poet has died

Donald Hall, 14th U.S. Poet Laureate, 2006-2007. Photo: Library of Congress

The poet Donald Hall died this week. Never say he “passed away;” he loathed euphemism. Though we never met except as a reader does, upon the page, I felt a kindred spirit at work in him. Being the age of my father, you might say Hall was the sort I wanted to be when I grew up – should that day ever come.

I liked his dedication to place, firmly planted as he was upon the farm, Eagle Pond, where his great-grandfather settled in 1865. And I loved the clear intent to communicate in ordinary language to ordinary people that his work displays. He believed that plain language sufficed to convey the most complex mixtures of thought and emotion.

“Everything important always begins from something trivial,” Hall said. Though he often achieved it, he did not insist on depth as a key value for individual works of art. To be beautiful was sufficient to justify any poem. And as I age myself, I appreciate being witness to his own journeys through love and loss, and to his ripening acceptance of the necessity of mortality, even his own.

As a writer, he said, “I expect my immortality will last about six seconds after my funeral.” In that, I expect, he was incorrect.

Here’s a poem for Donald Hall.

Another old poet has died

for Donald Hall

Another old poet has died, no surprise,
being made of meat, not stone.

But such is death doubled, taking
what unpenned works along.

The reader must begin again, seeking
some younger and stranger voice

that might elicit from him a grunt
in the silence of the library,

that might make him whisper
in wonder, “How perfect, how true.”

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