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A Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, Interviews, the Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, and One Poem

Overview

In A Hundred White Daffodils - an enlightening and typically endearing collection of prose and poetry - the late author of five highly regarded books of verse reflects on her writing life, growing spirituality, passionate hobbies, and ultimately fatal struggle with leukemia. Jane Kenyon is one of the most beloved poets on the contemporary American scene; this book shows us why and how this came to be.

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Overview

In A Hundred White Daffodils - an enlightening and typically endearing collection of prose and poetry - the late author of five highly regarded books of verse reflects on her writing life, growing spirituality, passionate hobbies, and ultimately fatal struggle with leukemia. Jane Kenyon is one of the most beloved poets on the contemporary American scene; this book shows us why and how this came to be.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
What feeds a poet's mind and lets poetry come? Most of the time, a book of poems shows only the finished product, careful stanzas of pored-over lines that are as perfect as the poet can make them. The stretch marks, the extra coffees, and the drafts thrown to the trash in despair are rarely printed.

There's usually no mention of long jogs, shopping trips, or elaborate gardening projects. Reading great books with a highlighter pen or painstakingly translating others' poems are also topics rarely discussed in the average book of contemporary poetry. But in order to create precise and memorable language that captures a moment, a poet does all kinds of other things besides actually write. It's those other activities that give a good poem muscle.

A Hundred White Daffodils by the late Jane Kenyon -- an accomplished, graceful poet who died from leukemia in 1995 -- offers a priceless window into a poet's mind. This rather unusual book starts with a series of excellent translations of the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. It also includes personal notes, newspaper columns, interviews, and ruminations on getting the mail and wandering through Woolworth's. There are essays on religion, thoughts on marriage, and fascinating remarks on a writer's need to find a "master" to guide her as she builds a literary career. Most importantly, by tracking just how a poet filled her days, this varied book shows how Kenyon created a world for herself in which outstanding poetry could be written.

In elegant prose, Kenyon details her love of gardening, her interest in beans, and her need to walk in nature -- and as she does so, the startling natural images in her poems begin to make more sense. A special treasure here is the section of great directions titled "Everything I Know About Writing Poetry," which says it all about how Kenyon lived:

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

Kenyon was a big believer in the spare and the simple. Until she was in the fifth grade, she attended a one-room school. The small and the remote informed her later poetry, as she moved to New Hampshire and wrote quietly beautiful poems, often praising the everyday in supple, sensuous verse. One of her best-loved and most magnificent poems, "Let Evening Come," seems to belong in the country, recited in an even, unpretentious tone:

        Let the light of late afternoon
        shine through chinks in the barn, moving
        up bales as the sun moves down.

        Let the cricket take up chafing
        as a woman takes up her needles
        and her yarn. Let evening come.

Kenyon's ability to make tiny items in the natural landscape appear infused with spiritual meaning becomes evident in the last two stanzas. Following her own advice in "Everything I Know About Writing Poetry," she intentionally sticks to the specific and lets precise detail create power:

        To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
        in the oats, to air in the lung,
        let evening come.

        Let it come, as it will, and don't
        be afraid. God does not leave us
        comfortless, so let evening come.

What's most beautiful about reading this masterful poem in this book is that by the time the poem appears -- on page 170 -- how Kenyon taught herself to write these lines seems something we are privileged to snoop through and understand. We know that Kenyon spent years with the great Akhmatova as her master, and because she told us, we know she learned how to "turn" from Akhmatova's early lyrics. Kenyon notes that Akhmatova frequently included a sharp twist, often veering from joy to pain. We even know that Kenyon titled her first book of Akhmatova translations Evening, so the word itself had resonance for her. In the musical repetition of "let evening come," we can hear the years of devotion to thinking about evening.

We know, too, that Kenyon worked at making herself at home in her husband's landscape. Though she was married to the well-known poet Donald Hall, her poems show more of a concern with creating space for herself as a woman and a wife in her husband's home base than staking a personal poetic space next to his numerous volumes and university appointments.

One short and lovely Kenyon poem directly addresses how she "added" herself to her husband's life. This is called "Finding a Long Gray Hair," and it's quoted in its entirety in the Bill Moyers interview included in the book:

        I scrub the long floorboards
        in the kitchen, repeating
        the motions of other women
        who have lived in this house.
        And when I find a long gray hair
        floating in the pail,
        I feel my life added to theirs.

This "repeating the motions" of others is a theme of the book. Hard work is made plain here, and the difficulty of being able to work is also addressed. Kenyon struggled with depression, and as Hall writes in the introduction, she knew her work was uneven. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that these seemingly disparate writings help explain how poems happen, and how a poet worked at increasing the possibility of poems occurring, of helping language come.

—Aviya Kushner

From the Publisher

"What a thrill . . . to find such beauty and density of feeling in [these] skillfully controlled [Akhmatova] translations. Kenyon's sharply realized if understated short essays originally published in a local New Hampshire newspaper are also noteworthy; in them, she revisits the terrain of her poems, particularly such themes as religion, gardening, and the regenerative force of nature. In the transcripts of Kenyon's interviews with Bill Moyers, David Bradt, and Marian Blue, there is a determined poignancy. The woman who comes to life in these pages is witty, guileless, humble, and heartbreakingly intelligent. One is left wanting more, as if continuing the interviews could restore this vibrant person to life. The final installment in this volume is the unfinished poem, 'Woman, Why Are You Weeping?', startling in its deft foray into religious faith, Third-World crisis, and race relations. Like much of Kenyon's work, it is at once irresistible and devastating."—Publishers Weekly

"The book succeeds in illuminating a poet and woman of remarkable presence."—Library Journal

"[Kenyon] writes prose the way she writes poetry, turning simple or frankly unbeautiful things sideways and inviting us to see what they offer us to love. Some of the most moving essays here chronicle her quest to make peace with Christianity, and in an introduction, her husband, the poet Donald Hall, recalls a vision that left her 'in a quiet, exalted, shining mood.' We leave this book the same way."—The New Yorker

"The collection opens with 'Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova.' These breathtaking translations of the Russian poet are finely wrought with Kenyon's devotion to image and respect for Akhmatova's style and emotional intent. In the middle sections—her memoirs of religion in childhood and columns from her local newspaper—Kenyon is at her best describing elements of her garden . . . The final, previously unpublished poem . . . a meditation on how a trip to India challenged her Christian faith, makes a haunting, beautiful endnote . . . This posthumous collection offers a rich and varied look into the working life of a well-loved American poet."—Kirkus Reviews

"With the proliferation of self-help books promising happiness, love, and the power to want what you already have, perhaps it's time to rediscover the pleasures of art, peonies, walking the dog, and reading aloud in bed. There is no guru, no Zen master, no Oprah guest who can rekindle an appreciation for life more than poet Kenyon, who passed away in 1995 from leukemia. Her work is, in a word, scrupulous. Kenyon's care for every word and line is such that she rarely, if ever, misses. In this collection, her husband, poet Donald Hall, compiles Kenyon's translations of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova's poems; columns she wrote for The Concord Monitor on the crafts of poetry, hiking, friendship, and pruning her beloved gardens; and interviews in which she speaks openly and insightfully about her lifelong struggle with depression. Especially strong are her notes for a lecture entitled 'Everything I Know About Writing Poetry.' To her credit, 'Everything' is three pages long and ends with, 'Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time . . . Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk.' If ever someone were to mandate a poet for aspiring poets to read, surely Kenyon should be that poet."—Colleen Corrigan

Colleen Corrigan
With the proliferation of self-help books promising happiness, love and the power to want what you already have, perhaps it’s time to rediscover the pleasures of art, peonies, walking the dog and reading aloud in bed. There is no guru, no Zen master, no Oprah guest who can rekindle an appreciation for life more than poet Kenyon, who passed away in 1995 from leukemia. Her work is, in a word, scrupulous. Kenyon’s care for every word and line is such that she rarely, if ever, misses. In this collection, her husband, poet Donald Hall, compiles Kenyon’s translations of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova’s poems; columns she wrote for The Concord Monitor on the crafts of poetry, hiking, friendship and pruning her beloved gardens; and interviews in which she speaks openly and insightfully about her lifelong struggle with depression. Especially strong are her notes for a lecture entitled “Everything I Know About Writing Poetry.” To her credit, “Everything” is three pages long and ends with, “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. . . . Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk.” If ever someone were to mandate a poet for aspiring poets to read, surely Kenyon should be that poet.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As carefully culled and tended as the New England flower gardens that Kenyon, a poet who died of leukemia in 1995, wrote about with such bone-aching clarity, this collection of sundry, posthumous prose and poetry illuminates a little-known corner of her oeuvre. Kenyon's introduction to the Akhmatova translations is discouraging: she offers a tepid account of Akhmatova's life and ends with disclaimer upon disclaimer warning that Akhmatova's trademark "beautiful clarity" will be lost in her English renditions. What a thrill, then, to find such beauty and density of feeling in the skillfully controlled translations. Kenyon's sharply realized if understated short essays originally published in a local New Hampshire newspaper are also noteworthy; in them, she revisits the terrain of her poems, particularly such themes as religion, gardening and the regenerative force of nature. In the transcripts of Kenyon's interviews with Bill Moyers, David Bradt and Marian Blue, there is a determined poignancy. The woman who comes to life in these pages is witty, guileless, humble and heartbreakingly intelligent. One is left wanting more, as if continuing the interviews could restore this vibrant person to life. The final installment in this volume is the unfinished poem, "Woman Why Are You Weeping," startling in its deft foray into religious faith, Third-World crisis and race relations. Like much of Kenyon's work, it is at once irresistible and devastating. It is quite clear why the poet felt such kinship for Akhmatova, for she, too, has achieved a "beautiful clarity." (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When Kenyon died of leukemia in 1995, colleagues and fans alike were left bereft. This posthumous collection includes short essays, interviews, a few of Kenyon's translations of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and one unfinished poem. Accessible, earnest, and devoid of urbane ironies, the essays focus mostly on either her small (New England) country community or her garden, examining her growing spiritual life and what it is to live while things are going on inside without one's knowledge or consent. Also covered are notions of writing, facing her own and her husband's bouts with cancer, and, in one of the interviews, a discussion of her struggle with depression. The book succeeds in illuminating a poet and woman of remarkable presence. Recommended for all libraries.--Scott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
Kenyon writes prose the way she writes poetry, turning simple or frankly unbeautiful things sideways and inviting us to see what they offer us to love. Some of the most moving essays here chronicle her quest to make peace with Christianity, and in an introduction her husband, the poet Donald Hall, recalls a vision that left her Œin a quiet, exalted, shining mood.¹ We leave this book the same way.
Kirkus Reviews
This somewhat choppy but affecting collection of translations, essays, interviews, and one new poem by Kenyon is indispensable reading for admirers of her work. Her husband, poet Donald Hall, has assembled both unpublished and previously published works by and interviews with the poet. Kenyon (Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, not reviewed, etc.) died of leukemia in 1995. The mélange of poems, articles, notes, and interviews succeeds in conveying resonant themes in Kenyon's life: gardening, Christianity, her home in New Hampshire, her marriage, illness. The collection opens with "Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova." These breathtaking translations of the Russian poet are finely wrought with Kenyon's devotion to image and respect for Akhmatova's style and emotional intent. In the middle sections—her memoirs of religion in childhood and columns from her local newspaper—Kenyon is at her best describing elements of her garden. Her peonies are "white, voluminous, and here and there display flecks of raspberry red on the edges of their fleshy, heavily scented petals." While her newspaper columns are often charming, and the language is precise and evocative, Kenyon too often falls into glib summation or pithy neighborly advice: "So remember, when you urge your children to hurry lest they miss the bus, you urge them toward a complicated future, much of which is subject to random luck." Kenyon's dialogue with consummate interviewer Bill Moyers more adequately delves into her life as a public and private woman. Her reflections on her marriage, her craft, her struggle with depression, and her love for the natural world are juxtaposed with her poems, offering a powerfulportrait of the interplay between life and art. The final, previously unpublished poem, "Woman Why Are You Weeping," a meditation on how a trip to India challenged her Christian faith, makes a haunting, beautiful endnote. Though at times uneven and repetitive, this posthumous collection offers a rich and varied look into the working life of a well-loved American poet.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555973087
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Pages: 226
  • Sales rank: 987,063
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor and graduated from the University of Michigan. She published five collections of poetry, including Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, and lived and worked with her husband Donald Hall in Wilmot, New Hampshire, until her death in 1995.

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


1


The memory of sun weakens in my heart,
grass turns yellow,
wind blows the early flakes of snow
lightly, lightly.


Already the narrow canals have stopped flowing;
water freezes.
Nothing will ever happen here—
not ever!


Against the empty sky the willow opens
a transparent fan.
Maybe it's a good thing I'm not
your wife.


The memory of sun weakens in my heart.
What's this? Darkness?
It's possible. And this may be the first night
of winter.


    1911


2


Evening hours at the desk.
And a page irreparably white.
The mimosa calls up the heat of Nice,
a large bird flies in a beam of moonlight.


And having braided my hair carefully for the night
as if tomorrow braids will be necessary,
I look out the window, no longer sad,—
at the sea, the sandy slopes.


What power a man has
who doesn't ask for tenderness!
I cannot lift my tired eyes
when he speaks my name.


    1913


3


I know, I know the skis
will begin again their dry creaking.
In the dark blue sky the moon is red,
and the meadow slopes so sweetly.


Thewindows of the palace burn
remote and still.
No path, no lane,
only the iceholes are dark.


Willow, tree of nymphs,
don't get in my way.
Shelter the black grackles, black
grackles among your snowy branches.


    1913


4

The Guest


Everything's just as it was: fine hard snow
beats against the dining room windows,
and I myself have not changed:
even so, a man came to call.


I asked him: "What do you want?"
He said, "To be with you in hell."
I laughed: "It seems you see
plenty of trouble ahead for us both."


But lifting his dry hand
he lightly touched the flowers.
"Tell me how they kiss you,
tell me how you kiss."


And his half-closed eyes
remained on my ring.
Not even the smallest muscle moved
in his serenely angry face.


Oh, I know it fills him with joy—
this hard and passionate certainty
that there is nothing he needs,
and nothing I can keep from him.


    1 January 1914


5

N.V.N.


There is a sacred, secret line in loving
which attraction and even passion cannot cross,—
even if lips draw near in awful silence
and love tears at the heart.


Friendship is weak and useless here,
and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,
because the soul is free and does not know
the slow luxuries of sensual life.


Those who try to come near it are insane
and those who reach it are shaken by grief.
So now you know exactly why
my heart beats no faster under your hand.


    1915


6


Like a white stone in a deep well
one memory lies inside me.
I cannot and will not fight against it:
it is joy and it is pain.


It seems to me that anyone who looks
into my eyes will notice it immediately,
becoming sadder and more pensive
than someone listening to a melancholy tale.


I remember how the gods turned people
into things, not killing their consciousness.
And now, to keep these glorious sorrows alive,
you have turned into my memory of you.


1916
Slepnevo


7


Everything promised him to me:
the fading amber edge of the sky,
and the sweet dreams of Christmas,
and the wind at Easter, loud with bells,


and the red shoots of the grapevine,
and waterfalls in the park,
and two large dragonflies
on the rusty iron fencepost.


And I could only believe
that he would be mine
as I walked along the high slopes,
the path of burning stones.


    1916

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Table of Contents

I
Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova

II
Gardens, the Church, and a Mountain

"Good-by and Keep Cold"
The Moments of Peonies
The Phantom Pruner
Notes of a Novice Hiker
South Danbury Church Fair
Childhood, When You Are in It
Gabriel's Truth

III
Talking to Neighbors

Edna Powers
Estonia and New Hampshire
The Mailbox
Season of Change and Loss
Every Year the Light
The Five-and-Dime
A Gardner of the True Vine
Summer Comes Alive
The Physics of Long Sticks
The Honey Wagon
Bulbs Planted in the Fall
A Day to Loaf
A Garden of My Dreams
The Mud Will Dry
The Shadows
Dreams of Math
Snakes in This Grass?
Reflections on Roadside Warnings
Poetry and the Mail

IV
Notes on Literature and the Arts

Kicking the Eggs
A Proposal for New Hampshire Writers
Thoughts on the Gifts of Art
Notes for a Lecture: "Everything I Know About Writing Poety"

V
Interviews

An Interview with Bill Moyers
An Interview with David Bradt

f1An Interview with Marian Blue

VI
A Poem

Woman, Why Are You Weeping?

Biography, compiled by Jack Kelleher

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