Donald Hall, 1928–2018
The poet laureate who wrote of love, death, and rural life
Donald Hall published more than 50 books during a seven-decade career, from odes to the Boston Red Sox to meditations on mortality. But the former U.S. poet laureate’s most celebrated work was inspired by his family’s ancestral homestead in Wilmot, N.H., where his great-grandfather began farming in 1865 and which became his home in 1975. Hall’s best-known collection, 1978’s Kicking the Leaves, was filled with plainspoken poems drawn from the land. In “Names of Horses,” he contemplates a field where generations of old farm horses are buried, where “roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs.”
Hall was raised in Hamden, Conn., by a homemaker mother and a father who worked in the family dairy business, said The New York Times. His father hated his job and “insisted that his son follow his own desires.” So at age 14, Hall dedicated his life to poetry. His talent was soon recognized, and at 16 he was admitted to the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont, where he became friends with Robert Frost. After studying at Harvard and Oxford, Hall was named poetry editor of The Paris Review, where he interviewed writers such as Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot.
Much of his later work dealt with by the death of his second wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, from leukemia in 1995, said the Associated Press. In “The Reward,” he “bitterly summarized” his efforts to take care of her: “I never/belittled her sorrows or joshed at/her dreads and miseries./How admirable I found myself.” Upon being named poet laureate in 2006, Hall explained his simple view on the value of poetry. “There is no other purpose than the beauty of it,” he said. “And that is reason enough to be.”