Tuesday Poem-Having it Out with Melancholy by Jane Kenyon


Jane Kenyon and dogA few weeks ago I came across American poet, Jane Kenyon (May 23, 1947 – April 22, 1995).

Having it Out with Melancholy was the poem which took my eye. A lengthy poem, its one hundred lines are broken into nine sections, each with an appropriate title.

It was the last verse of the poem, published as an extract, that started my search for Jane Kenyon. But on reading the whole poem I was moved by the stark honesty of the first verse.

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore…

According to her biographers Jane was no stranger to depression. and some of the verses reference this but the poem is  never sentimental or self indulgent. Instead Jane speaks with a strong clear voice which appears to wonder at the dichotomy between sadness and joy.  For that reason the poem is uplifting.  Below is another verse. Such a clear and tender description…

The dog searches until he finds me

upstairs, likes down with a clatter

of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing

saves my life   in and out,

in and out;  a pause,  a long sigh  .  .  .  .

and the last verse which originally led me to read more.

What hurt me so terribly

all my life until this moment?

How I love the small, swiftly

beating heart of the bird

singing in the great maples;

its bright unequivocal eye.

These are just short extracts. I don’t have permission to print the whole poem but if you want to read it in its entirety go here.

There are a number of biographies of Jane online. The one I preferred can be found on the American National Biography Online page. I quote

‘In her all too brief lifetime, Jane Kenyon lived life fully. She participated in readings and interviews by herself and with her husband. With Donald Hall she traveled broadly to such places as Russia, Europe, and India, where she had the opportunity to read her poems and to be something of an ambassador of American poetry. Yet, when one thinks of Jane Kenyon, one thinks first of her climbing to her cozy attic room to work, and looking out upon the banks of peonies edging the old barn. This was a place of the heart; one of many she discovered and made home.’ 

And here is a short extract from her poem ‘Happiness’.

There’s no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your  feet

having squandered a fortune away…more

I hope you are now inspired to read these poems and enjoy.

And for myself…I have been AWOL with one of winter’s nasties. But Spring is here and as I write I can here the tuis singing in the kowhai tree nearby. Happy Spring to those in the Southern Hemisphere! And enjoy the fruits of Autumn you Northerners.

Please go here to read more Tuesday Poems.