Essays After Eighty
From a former Poet Laureate, a new collection of essays delivering a gloriously unexpected view from the vantage point of very old age  Donald Hall has lived a remarkable life of letters, a career capped by a National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president. Now, in the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of very old age, he is writing searching essays that startle, move, and delight. In the transgressive and horrifyingly funny “No Smoking,” he looks back over his lifetime, and several of his ancestors’ lifetimes, of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, packs of them every day. Hall paints his past: “Decades followed each other — thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty . . .” And, poignantly, often joyfully, he limns his present: “When I turned eighty and rubbed testosterone on my chest, my beard roared like a lion and gained four inches.” Most memorably, Hall writes about his enduring love affair with his ancestral Eagle Pond Farm and with the writing life that sustains him, every day: “Yesterday my first nap was at 9:30 a.m., but when I awoke I wrote again.”

Essays After Eighty Details

TitleEssays After Eighty
Author
ReleaseDec 2nd, 2014
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN-139780544287044
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry, Biography Memoir

Essays After Eighty Review

  • Nicole~
    January 1, 1970
    You must have something you want to do more than anything else and the most important thing about this desire is that it must be incapable of fulfillment.- Donald HallU.S. Poet Laureate and National Medal of Arts recipient Donald Hall, diagnosed with liver cancer in 1992 and given 5 years to live, defied the grim event instead, to survive his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, who died of Leukemia in 1995. From their New Hampshire farm home which has been in Hall's family since 1865 and had seen bir You must have something you want to do more than anything else and the most important thing about this desire is that it must be incapable of fulfillment.- Donald HallU.S. Poet Laureate and National Medal of Arts recipient Donald Hall, diagnosed with liver cancer in 1992 and given 5 years to live, defied the grim event instead, to survive his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, who died of Leukemia in 1995. From their New Hampshire farm home which has been in Hall's family since 1865 and had seen births and deaths like seasons come and gone, Hall recorded his melancholic and humorous autobiographical sketches filled with witty curmudgeon observations from a geriatric's perspective.His 2014 collection Essays After Eighty portrays a sense of home. This home- Eagle Pond Farm, named for the nearby lake - is featured as the epicenter of Hall's anthology. In his opening essay Out The Window, he writes: "I sit in my blue armchair looking out the window. I teeter when I walk, I no longer drive, I look out the window," as winter birds perch on branches high above thick snowdrifts, as daylight weakens to twilight, scenes shift to his mother's last days in a nursing home, and the devastating blow of Jane's passing a year later. Jane had compared his mother's end of days to "a horse running in wide circles, the circles growing smaller until they ceased." Now, twenty years later, Hall notes his steps shuffling in the same circular motion, the circle closing in with each diminished stride.One by onethey atrophy, knees and hipjoints,ears and eyes, leg muscles and fingers.Hair departs from the headand dark tight hairs from the body,leaving a whiteness of old thighsand calves, smooth as a girl'sbut with blue veins, the wreckageand comfort of a body contractedto frailty.-Witness's House*In the title story Essays After Eighty, Hall confesses as he reached octogenarian status, "words flavored by buttery long vowels... imagination and tongue-sweetness" that require a regular hormonal fix, have failed him. When testosterone departs, so does poetry. Where the poet stops, the poembegins. The poem asks onlythat the poet get out of the way.-The Master*Prose writing became his daily passion, taking great pleasure in writing and revising sometimes up to eighty drafts of a manuscript. "Maybe I discovered more things to be persnickety about. More likely age has slowed down my access to the right word." Alert and cognitively sound in his eighties, he understands he's coursing through an uncharted zone, an "unanticipated galaxy." He jokingly refers to himself as an extraterrestrial, a separate form of life with green skin, two heads and antennae. Heavy with overgrown beard of pepper and salt, much in need of a good barber but extremely defiant of the idea - "My present hairiness is monumental, and I intend to carry it into the grave" - he's been described more like a yeti than ET.If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up.He gets around in a wheelchair pushed by his companion, to still attend readings of his poetry, unapologetic for the raspy, gravelly voice honed by decades of smoking. The morning route from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen wobbling on a four-wheeled walker, checking the mail, writing letters, taking a nap, writing essays: may seem mechanical, yet somehow I sense a quiet pleasure those minutes to hours provide. The man in "old age sits in a chair, writing a little and diminishing", in a room of bumpy wallpaper in the house where his great-grandfather settled his family long ago - the house that was almost burnt down by his fumbled cigarette lost in the cushions of a favorite blue chair. He reclines in its replacement, glances at his desk flanked by a gallery of Janes.Your presence in this houseis almost as enormousand painful as your absence.-Letter With No Address*He still mourns her, "I wrote nothing but elegy, I wailed her loss, but—as I excused myself in a poem—“Lust is grief / that has turned over in bed / to look the other way.” From his chair, the old man looks out the window at the ghosts of elm trees which "a hundred and fifty years transformed them from green shoots to blighted bark. Out the window, I watch a white landscape that turns pale green, dark green, yellow and red, brown under bare branches, until snow falls again." Out the window, he reflects on times gently fading to sepia: I remember Hitler and Stalin invading Poland. I remember sitting in left field to watch the first game of the 1941 World Series. Joe Gordon hit a home run. I remember Pearl Harbor. I remember Guadalcanal. I remember buying War Bonds in school, ten cents a week. I remember leaving grammar school for the vastness of Hamden High. I remember V-E Day and Hiroshima. I remember meeting Robert Frost. I remember V-J Day and a woman’s naked body. I remember Kennedy’s assassination. With my son I marched in Washington against the Vietnam War. I remember 9/ 11. One day, of course, no one will remember what I remember." *poem excerpts supplemented from White Apples and the Taste of Stone by Donald Hall, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - www.hmhco.com).
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  • David Schaafsma
    January 1, 1970
    “Thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty . . .”Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall is one of his last collections of writing. It's not all great, but I listened to it, and think that is the way to experience it, though I would have liked him doing it, in his voice. Tom Perkins did the reading, and he's much younger than Hall--older than eighty--and that bugged me a bit, and the fact that he mis “Thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty . . .”Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall is one of his last collections of writing. It's not all great, but I listened to it, and think that is the way to experience it, though I would have liked him doing it, in his voice. Tom Perkins did the reading, and he's much younger than Hall--older than eighty--and that bugged me a bit, and the fact that he mispronounces 3-4 names of friends of Hall, such as Galway Kinnell. But let me get back to the actual text, which I still liked quite a bit, anyway.“Yesterday my first nap was at 9:30 a.m., but when I awoke I wrote again.”I loved his frank and funny essay on “Death,” citing all the euphemisms about that dreaded event: How did the wife “lose” her husband?! Where could she have put him?"After decades of my admiring old people, I became one."“Out the Window,” the book’s beautiful lead essay, is a kind of lyrical portrait of his eighties, sitting by his window, watching birds on Eagle Pond. Lovely. He writes every day for a couple hours as he has done for decades. Hall says condescension is what to expect if you are in a wheelchair in your eighties: As they leave the museum cafeteria, the guard asks, “Did we have a nice din-din?” Augh!But Hall isn’t whining much here; he makes one smile more than wince. For instance, at a reading a student asks:"How do you reconcile being a poet with being president of Hallmark cards?" This inquisitive student had looked on the Internet and learned that the man who runs the sentiment factory is indeed Donald Hall.Here’s a short essay from the book, “Thank You, Thank You,” the only one I could find so far for free:https://www.npr.org/books/titles/3578...Here’s his poem he reads, “Without,” from the book of the same name, about the loss of his dear wife, the poet Jane Kenyon:https://www.webofstories.com/play/don...Others have written about old age, graceful writers, with great insight, such as Oliver Sacks (and I reviewed his last short book, Gratitude here), so count this among the best to read as you grow older and want to know what it can be like. Hall never looks away, and is always graceful and gracious.
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  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    Plainspoken, humorous, mildly eccentric collection of essays, mostly about Donald Hall. Truly, it's like listening to an old man talk his life story. Various anecdotes reappear in various essays, similar to my dad, who forgets that he has shared various old chestnuts umpteen times. We hear of Hall's roots in Hamden (of all places!), CT, of his grandparents from CT and his grandparents from New Hampshire, of the wives he lost and the girlfriends he found, of poetry, of writing, and so on.Among th Plainspoken, humorous, mildly eccentric collection of essays, mostly about Donald Hall. Truly, it's like listening to an old man talk his life story. Various anecdotes reappear in various essays, similar to my dad, who forgets that he has shared various old chestnuts umpteen times. We hear of Hall's roots in Hamden (of all places!), CT, of his grandparents from CT and his grandparents from New Hampshire, of the wives he lost and the girlfriends he found, of poetry, of writing, and so on.Among the so-ons: riffs on politics, varmints, his beloved farm in NH, poetry writing, beard-growing, baseball, smoking, working out, not working out, poetry reading, school days, trips abroad, museums, etc. For a poet, Hall dispenses with both the flowery and the flourishes. He says it... just so, Cracker Barrel-style in a way, yet cagey, too, and with the darkest of humors -- the kind I like.Much of the humor is of the subtle variety. This bit, for instance, charmed me:Baseball is for watching. From April to October I watch the Red Sox every night. (Other sports fill the darker months.) I do not write; I do not work at all. After supper I become the American male -- but I think I do something else. I try to forgive my comparisons, but before Yeats went to sleep every night he read an American Western. When Eliot was done with poetry and editing, he read a mystery book. Everyone who concentrates all day, in the evening needs to let the half-wit out for a walk. Sometimes it is Zane Grey, sometimes Agatha Christie, sometimes the Red Sox.At 85, Hall keeps on ticking. He's not afraid of death so much as old age (hello). He married Jane Kenyon, who was some 20 years his junior; he eventually got colon cancer, and was expected to die. Jane even wrote a few poems despairing his imminent demise. But God is too much the ironist for plot lines like that. Hall wound up surviving his cancer and, two years later, Jane was diagnosed with leukemia, dying 15 months after that. In fact, Hall has outlived two wives now -- a widower in a world of widows. He also looks a bit like the Old Man on the Mountain (N.H. allusion), or perhaps the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.At 134 pages, this is a quick Sunday walk with a spirit both wonderful and wry. He's given up poetry, yes, but thankfully Hall has not given up writing!
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  • David Lentz
    January 1, 1970
    BEHOLD, A RAGGED MANLentzian Sonnet Rhyming Sequenceaa, bcbc, dd, efef, ggOn the shanks of Ragged Mountain a poet rages in common diminishment,Writing of paradise lost and donning a riotous beard like a Russian dissident,Echoes of Robert Frost with hard clarity and common sense in his disposition,Gazing from a blue chair, clouds kiss Kearsage as foreplay in a winter storm.A man of many ragged drafts and doyen in the kit of tender composition,Behold, the holy poet’s songs, nicked in granite, disc BEHOLD, A RAGGED MANLentzian Sonnet Rhyming Sequenceaa, bcbc, dd, efef, ggOn the shanks of Ragged Mountain a poet rages in common diminishment,Writing of paradise lost and donning a riotous beard like a Russian dissident,Echoes of Robert Frost with hard clarity and common sense in his disposition,Gazing from a blue chair, clouds kiss Kearsage as foreplay in a winter storm.A man of many ragged drafts and doyen in the kit of tender composition,Behold, the holy poet’s songs, nicked in granite, disciplined in lyrical form.Raker of hay, Holstein dairyman, poetry man, Red Sox on the radio fan, A Harvard, Oxford and Oxcart Man: behold, the Ragged Mountain Man,Sustained in the shades of summits where his ancestors were homegrown,Prophet of the age to come, bard of back chambers, an inscrutable charmer, A common man, if ever there were one, limning a literary light well shone,Poet of the people: raking and baling verse from the voice of the rustic farmer,Who deem him salt of the earth as New Hampshire confers a common bond,Behold, a ragged man with undimmed eyes peering west toward Eagle Pond.+ + +
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  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    The winter issue of The American Scholar includes one of the essays from this collection, and it's thoroughly charming. I wrote a brief note about it here in The Washington Post:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/s...
  • Kusaimamekirai
    January 1, 1970
    I will admit to not knowing who Donald Hall was (Poet Laureate from 2006-2007 as well as the husband of the poet Jane Kenyon) when I picked up this book. Drawn to it partly by the title but honestly more by the scruffy looking and wise looking man on the cover, I can only say after reading it that perhaps it is ok to in fact, judge a book by its cover. These essays are Hall’s meditations on writing but also largely about the process of aging. Not the fear of death, as Hall often reminds us, but I will admit to not knowing who Donald Hall was (Poet Laureate from 2006-2007 as well as the husband of the poet Jane Kenyon) when I picked up this book. Drawn to it partly by the title but honestly more by the scruffy looking and wise looking man on the cover, I can only say after reading it that perhaps it is ok to in fact, judge a book by its cover. These essays are Hall’s meditations on writing but also largely about the process of aging. Not the fear of death, as Hall often reminds us, but rather the fear of our bodies slowly betraying us. The realization of watching people around you die (Hall dislikes euphemisms such as “pass on” as they seek to soften what is a basic fact of life for all of us). The fear of living alone and eating “widower meals” (frozen TV dinners that he wheels up to the microwave nightly to heat). There are too many wonderful passages here to list them all but a few in particular stood out for me. One occurs when after entering his eighties, Hall attends a large poetry reading:“For a while I began each reading with a short poem I was trying out, which spoke of being eleven and watching my grandfather milk his Holsteins. In the poem I asked, in effect, how my grandfather would respond if he saw me now. When I finished saying the poem, there was always a grave pause, long enough to drive a hayrack through, followed by a standing ovation. Earlier, I had never received a standing O after a first poem; now it happened again and again, from Pennsylvania to Minnesota to California, and I thought I had written something uncannily moving. When I mailed copies of the poem to friends for praise, they politely told me it was terrible. I was puzzled and distressed, until I figured it out. The audience had just seen me stagger, waver with a cane, and labor to sit down, wheezing. They imagined my grandfather horrified, watching a cadaver gifted with speech. They stood and applauded because they knew they would never see me again.” There is something poignant but also humorous in this macabre realization that someone is celebrating what may be the last moments of your existence as much as the art you came to share with them. While there are some sad passages about the decay of his body as it ages, there are few passages of complaint. Instead, Hall often views all of it with a sense of humor that I hope I have if I ever reach his age. Years after the death of his second wife and sitting at a restaurant with his new girlfriend he observes:“Poetry finally attracted females, as it was supposed to do when I was fourteen.” What I admire most however about this wonderful collection of essays is that despite the physical and mental limitations of growing old (Hall admits that he is unable to write poetry anymore, leaving prose as his only literary outlet) he seems content with the life he has lived and happy to live however many years he may have left. “New poems no longer come to me, with their prodigies of metaphor and assonance. Prose endures. I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It’s better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns, and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do.” Hall died in June of this year at the age of 89. I like to imagine that he did so with no regrets and a smile on his face. Sitting in his chair and looking outside at the birds and flowers.
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  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    January 1, 1970
    One of my favorite categories of books is that of essays and other non-fiction by novelists. On Writing by Stephen King, The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan, Payback by Margaret Atwood, and there are so many more. I've read little of the fiction of these writers, but it seems that knowing how to tell a good story is just as important in writing articles and essays as it is in writing science fiction and horror.Donald Hall is not a novelist, he's a poet, quite a famous one. He gave up his tenured pos One of my favorite categories of books is that of essays and other non-fiction by novelists. On Writing by Stephen King, The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan, Payback by Margaret Atwood, and there are so many more. I've read little of the fiction of these writers, but it seems that knowing how to tell a good story is just as important in writing articles and essays as it is in writing science fiction and horror.Donald Hall is not a novelist, he's a poet, quite a famous one. He gave up his tenured position at university when he was in his forties to write full time. While it was not quite possible to earn a living writing poetry, he also wrote essays and articles, many about baseball, and was able to make it as a freelancer.In Essays After Eighty, Hall writes about whatever strikes him. He reminisces about his childhood, about his youth and middle age, and about being old. He chronicles his changing attitude to literary awards and honorary degrees. I especially enjoyed reading about the trip he and his wife took as young newlyweds in 1952 while doing postgraduate work at Oxford. They put their tiny Morris Minor on a ferry to France and then drove to Yugoslavia and to Greece. Adventure ensued.Some of the pieces here run to the mundane as Hall considers his various beards and his experiences as a cigar and cigarette smoker. I'm happy to have finally discovered Donald Hall.
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  • Bonnie Brody
    January 1, 1970
    Donald Hall is a man of words, a poet who has mastered prose. He takes on many subjects and life experiences in this short memoir which is an odyssey into the world of the old.He takes on some of his challenges very seriously, like his lack of balance, reliance on a wheel chair and inability to speak with any strength. Other things, he takes a lighter note with as he discusses how age makes him appreciate getting to the bathroom on time and not having to worry about his next orgasm.Ironically, w Donald Hall is a man of words, a poet who has mastered prose. He takes on many subjects and life experiences in this short memoir which is an odyssey into the world of the old.He takes on some of his challenges very seriously, like his lack of balance, reliance on a wheel chair and inability to speak with any strength. Other things, he takes a lighter note with as he discusses how age makes him appreciate getting to the bathroom on time and not having to worry about his next orgasm.Ironically, when he was in his sixties, he fought and won a terrible round with colon and liver cancer. At the same time, his beloved wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, was diagnosed with leukemia and died fifteen months later at forty-seven. He still grieves her loss but has a lady friend named Linda with whom he shares a lot of his life.I most enjoyed his discussions about art and artists, the meaning of praise and the sincerity of the praiser. He seems to have hit it on the nose.Donald Hall realizes that his "circles narrow. Each season my balance gets worse, and sometimes I fall. I no longer cook for myself but microwave widower food, mostly Stouffer's. My fingers are clumsy and slow with buttons." "Prose endures. I feel the circles grow smaller and old age is a ceremony of losses."
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  • Tuck
    January 1, 1970
    here is a very good review of this bookhttps://www.goodreads.com/review/show...here is a not good onea very funny and wry collection of short chatty essays about being an old geezer, a poet who doesn't write poems anymore, about memories and day to day. a nice touch was his explanation of how he writes essays and revises, the revision paring down and paring down to the point where the reader is the one to get the point.
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    The New York Times podcast I listen to would call my reading of this book "Obituary Reading." But I'm reading it because of David Schaafsma's review on goodreads. My favorite of many many of Hall's good lines: "Every time I write, say, or think "lung cancer," I pick up a Pall Mall to calm myself."A goal: to live that long, to keep writing, and at that age to manifest such humor, gratitude, and grace.
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  • Jon
    January 1, 1970
    A collection of fourteen short autobiographical essays by the former poet laureate (he resigned after a year). Without seeming to name-drop, he describes many poets and celebrities he's known, from Rod McKuen (whose poems were close to Hallmark cards) to Bob Dylan (his lyrics "resemble poetry") and Dylan Thomas, William Shawn, and Allen Ginsberg "...(he) said I wouldn't know a poem if it buggered me in broad daylight." He visited the White House for various ceremonial occasions from Carter to "B A collection of fourteen short autobiographical essays by the former poet laureate (he resigned after a year). Without seeming to name-drop, he describes many poets and celebrities he's known, from Rod McKuen (whose poems were close to Hallmark cards) to Bob Dylan (his lyrics "resemble poetry") and Dylan Thomas, William Shawn, and Allen Ginsberg "...(he) said I wouldn't know a poem if it buggered me in broad daylight." He visited the White House for various ceremonial occasions from Carter to "Bush the First" to Obama, who awarded him the National Medal of Arts. He hasn't shaved in years and never combs his hair: the photo-op picture of him with the tall, elegant Obama prompted his essay title "A Yeti in the District." The stories and reminiscences are often hilarious. He meanders around subjects--the life of writing, outliving both his spouses, old age, death--sometimes seeming to get a little repetitious; but he always gives his essays a surprising shape. He opens one with the story of his car trip from Vienna to Zagreb in 1952 with his new wife. At the checkpoint into Yugoslavia, they asked a very important-looking man if Zagreb was straight ahead. "He shrugged and told us, 'There is only one road in Yugoslavia.'" He closes the essay with "...there are no happy endings, because if things are happy they have not ended. Kirby (his wife) died of cancer in 2008 when she was seventy-six. I survive into my eighties, writing, and oddly cheerful, although disabled and largely alone. There is only one road." He loves rewriting more than writing, and one essay with the same title as the book is a meta-essay describing how the ones in the book were produced, including the one being read now. "As I grew older--collapsing into my seventies, glimpsing ahead the cliffs of the eighties, colliding into eighty-five--poetry abandoned me." A page later he circles back to, "Originally I wrote 'poetry suddenly left me," which after twelve drafts became 'poetry abandoned me.'" I suspect that what I took for repetitious and meandering was fully intended. You don't need to love poetry to enjoy this book; you only need to appreciate good writing. In "On Rejection and Resurrection" he has helpful advice to aspiring writers. "At sixteen, poets think that if they publish in a magazine, that will be it. When it happens, it is not it." In fact, neither is getting published in the New Yorker, or getting anthologized, or winning the Something Award, or even the Nobel Prize. Reputations rise and fall with changes in taste. Andrew Marvell was not recognized for 300 years. Tennyson was glorious until the twentieth century decided no Victorian could be a poet. There is no it.
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  • Guy Austin
    January 1, 1970
    Love love love. Reads like a memoir of sorts. Not sure how I fell into this little gem, but I am glad I did. Why do I like it? To be honest, I really enjoy reading insights left by folks after a life lived. This is what this feels like. This well lettered poet and essayist delivered the goods. He speaks of his life and little nuances in it that form a picture of life in the rearview admitting that the now is about all he can focus or count on at his age. It is done in a funny and touching way. " Love love love. Reads like a memoir of sorts. Not sure how I fell into this little gem, but I am glad I did. Why do I like it? To be honest, I really enjoy reading insights left by folks after a life lived. This is what this feels like. This well lettered poet and essayist delivered the goods. He speaks of his life and little nuances in it that form a picture of life in the rearview admitting that the now is about all he can focus or count on at his age. It is done in a funny and touching way. "I wrote a poem, "In Praise of Death," that tried to get rid of death by flattery. Except in print, I no longer dwell on it. It's relaxing to know I'll die very soon, as it is a comfort not to obsess about my next orgasm. I've been ambitious, and ambition no longer has plans for the future- except these essays. My goal in life is making it to the bathroom."One little tidbit I keep thinking of tells his interaction with his editor, William Shawn, who after hundreds of suggested edits to an essay calls him a week before publication to ask if he has time to go over his essay, which may make a couple of hours. Halls reply? "Go ahead Mr. Shawn." "In the first sentence we have found a serial comma we think we might with profit remove."Read this – it is well worth your time.
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  • miteypen
    January 1, 1970
    A thoroughly charming, poignant and honest set of essays that meander through the author's life, from childhood to old age, touching on such subjects as his marriages, his family's farm, nature, the writing life, honorary degrees and awards, reading poetry, other writers/poets, travel, art, food, infirmity and facing death. What keeps the essays from seeming like rambling is his skill in crafting words. What could have been depressing at times is saved by his sly wit. His body might, by his own A thoroughly charming, poignant and honest set of essays that meander through the author's life, from childhood to old age, touching on such subjects as his marriages, his family's farm, nature, the writing life, honorary degrees and awards, reading poetry, other writers/poets, travel, art, food, infirmity and facing death. What keeps the essays from seeming like rambling is his skill in crafting words. What could have been depressing at times is saved by his sly wit. His body might, by his own admission, be infirm, but there's obviously nothing wrong with his mind! Reading this book is a lot like sitting at an elder's knee and soaking up his wisdom. I've never met or even seen Donald Hall, but after reading these essays I feel like I know him.
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    Saw this one on my library's new ebooks list, so thought I'd check it out.I had no idea Hall was a former Poet Laureate until he mentions it later in the book. This collection turned out to be the perfect choice, as I felt I got enough background of his younger days here, definitely no more details needed; his observations on life today are the strong point. Other reviewers have mentioned the incident where a museum guard assumed an eighty-something guy in a wheelchair meant Hall was senile ... Saw this one on my library's new ebooks list, so thought I'd check it out.I had no idea Hall was a former Poet Laureate until he mentions it later in the book. This collection turned out to be the perfect choice, as I felt I got enough background of his younger days here, definitely no more details needed; his observations on life today are the strong point. Other reviewers have mentioned the incident where a museum guard assumed an eighty-something guy in a wheelchair meant Hall was senile ... so proceeded to direct baby talk at him! Highly recommended - a book many of my Goodreads friends would appreciate
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    Seldom do I quit on a book, but this one was not something I cared to finish. I was interested to see what Hall would have to say about life after eighty. The first essay was charming and on subject. From there it went swiftly downhill. Little of what he writes is about the different view from the top of the mountain, much is about name dropping, who I have known, where I have been. Too much of political views and a bit of crudeness and I was out of there. Ah. I knew nothing really about Hall as Seldom do I quit on a book, but this one was not something I cared to finish. I was interested to see what Hall would have to say about life after eighty. The first essay was charming and on subject. From there it went swiftly downhill. Little of what he writes is about the different view from the top of the mountain, much is about name dropping, who I have known, where I have been. Too much of political views and a bit of crudeness and I was out of there. Ah. I knew nothing really about Hall aside from his being a Poet Laureate. I hope his poetry is better than his prose.
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  • Michael Lieberman
    January 1, 1970
    Bottom Line: A bleak message delivered with a generous intelligence & humor.Graceful, lithe, laconic & leavened with ever present humor & humility, these essays tell a story of resilience in the face of loss & decline with enviable craft & forthrightness.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Donald Hall wrote the funny, cantankerous, honest, touching essays in this collection after reaching age eighty, as one would assume, so it's full of memories and laments and ailments and wisdom.In one sense it's a writer's book, an account of Hall's life as a poet and freelancer. In another sense, it's a tribute to the family farmhouse where he spends his final days, unafraid of death but not enamored of dying.He is unabashed in detailing the grim facts of decrepitude--the four-wheeled walker, Donald Hall wrote the funny, cantankerous, honest, touching essays in this collection after reaching age eighty, as one would assume, so it's full of memories and laments and ailments and wisdom.In one sense it's a writer's book, an account of Hall's life as a poet and freelancer. In another sense, it's a tribute to the family farmhouse where he spends his final days, unafraid of death but not enamored of dying.He is unabashed in detailing the grim facts of decrepitude--the four-wheeled walker, the wheelchair in airports and museums, the inability to go upstairs in his farmhouse, the surrender of his driver's license because two accidents taught him he was a menace--but he retains a singular clarity of insight and expression, a specificity and succinctness, that demonstrate he's in full possession of his intellectual faculties when he's not nodding off.I love Hall's recollection of interviewing T.S. Eliot and asking him if he thought he was any good...and Eliot saying hell no, no one thinks he's any good. I also love Hall's thick skin in shrugging off the meaning of rejections (which come with the territory for all writers), honorary degrees (which are more for the university that grants them than the recipient), and awards (one writer who'd won a Pulitzer said that if he received a National Book Award next, he'd know he was no good for sure.)Here's a man who has lived long enough to have met Robert Frost and heard him, kind chap that he was, privately trash Eliot, Stevens, and Williams...and who met Dylan Thomas and heard him say that he stole his most famous poem from Yeats (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night) and didn't really like it...and who met Mrs. Fiske and Her Daughter forty years after Whistler immortalized them.Jane Kenyon, the love of Hall's life, is underplayed somewhat in this collection, which is interesting. For many years, I thought Hall would never again write about anyone else. But here is his first wife, Kirby, and a fine account of why the marriage occurred and failed, and a series of cameos by Hall's current caretakers, notably his close companion, Linda, who for a long time (not possible any more) accompanied Hall to readings where he insists, for reasons he doesn't explain, he would "say" poems, as in, "Then I would say a poem..." Doesn't that strike you as an odd usage?This curmudgeon is happy to recount shooting groundhogs and other infestations too large and quick for his cats or dogs to dispatch. He allows that mindless activity is quite fitting for intellectual workers played out come nighttime. He says he was drunk in his forties and doesn't remember them well. He clearly has a fond memory of the young woman who told him she wanted to wrap her legs around his head. And he is pleased that he gave up a tenured professorship at the University of Michigan to become a freelance writer--almost no one in his right mind would do that, not these days anyway.During William Shawn's editorship at The New Yorker, Hall would receive essay proofs marked up with scores of quibbles. He'd deal with them. Then, usually about dinnertime, he would receive a call from Shawn, who would spend the next three hours harassing him about commas that one might question. Whether this was necessary or not, Hall now writes crisply and knowledgeably. He has a genial way of organizing essays along thematic lines with transitions that sometimes don't seem justified until two paragraphs in. I like the way this makes the reader guess,"Why the hell are we onto this now?"There's no getting away from the end time of a son, a husband, a father and grandfather, however, so that's a kind of constant, a somewhat exasperated muttering in the background. In fact, Hall's primary interest--poetry--is something he says he had to give up. Doesn't have the testosterone for it, the energy to make the vowels howl.I would read this little book if I were you. There's always Wikipedia if you don't know who T.S. Eliot was and need to look him up.
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  • Dylan Perry
    January 1, 1970
    This little book stole my heart. Essays After Eighty does a lot in its short page count. There are so many nuggets of truth and wisdom, all told with the execution only a nuanced and seasoned poet could bring, a specificity to the language that is delightful. He does not romanticize growing old, breaks it down into harsh detail and yet handles the subject with humor and respect. He leaves no stone unturned: His brief time as the Poet Laureate. Childhood. Life before, during, and after his second This little book stole my heart. Essays After Eighty does a lot in its short page count. There are so many nuggets of truth and wisdom, all told with the execution only a nuanced and seasoned poet could bring, a specificity to the language that is delightful. He does not romanticize growing old, breaks it down into harsh detail and yet handles the subject with humor and respect. He leaves no stone unturned: His brief time as the Poet Laureate. Childhood. Life before, during, and after his second wife passed early from leukemia. How is days blend into one another, and his thoughts on death; He tackled all of this while making me snort and laugh. He seemed like a good man, and I wish I had gotten the chance to meet him. As it is, I plan to dig into his selected poetry collection soon and work my way through his back catalog with a smile on my face. 5/5
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  • James Lang
    January 1, 1970
    Just leaving a reminder here to myself to re-read this little collection of essays whenever I am fretting about the prospect of growing old. Hall's diminished physical capacities provide him with enough material to continue what he has always done: write beautiful sentences about the human condition. And that writing leaves him, even in his mid-eighties and largely disabled, "oddly cheerful." May we all be so fortunate.
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  • Melora
    January 1, 1970
    Essays about the author's life, especially on aging and on being an old writer. I enjoyed these very much. Hall's humor, low-key, often self deprecating, is appealing, and his stories include sorrow for things lost and appreciation for present pleasures. He tells of a trip to Washington D.C. to be awarded, with other artists, a National Medal of Arts, in 2011."A military man took my arm to help me climb two stairs, as I had seen another do for Roy Acuff. I told the President how much I admired h Essays about the author's life, especially on aging and on being an old writer. I enjoyed these very much. Hall's humor, low-key, often self deprecating, is appealing, and his stories include sorrow for things lost and appreciation for present pleasures. He tells of a trip to Washington D.C. to be awarded, with other artists, a National Medal of Arts, in 2011."A military man took my arm to help me climb two stairs, as I had seen another do for Roy Acuff. I told the President how much I admired him. He hugged my shoulder and bent speaking several sentences into my left ear, which is totally deaf. I heard nothing except my heart's pounding. When my friends watched on the Internet, seeing the President address me, they asked what he had said. I told them that he said either "Your work is immeasurably great" or "All your stuff is disgusting crap," but I couldn't make out which."He later describes an event put on by the public library in his childhood hometown in honor of the publication of his last book of poems, published right before his eighty-third birthday."I was amazed and ecstatic that four hundred people came. There was an introduction, anecdotes, and poems from the Connecticut Poetry Society. It went on and on. Then I read some poems and took a few questions. Afterward, fifty people surrounded me, saying, "My mother taught you French!" "My grandfather worked for your grandfather!" "Your father gave me this book with his own hands!" and "Do you remember me?" I did not recognize my date for the prom. At my birthday, back in New Hampshire, my children and grandchildren gathered for dinner at a restaurant's long table. I was so excited about the Hamden occasion that I described it to the left side of the table, then turned right and repeated everything. "I don't know why," I said, "but it pleased me as much as the White House." My beautiful and sharp granddaughter Allison said, "Maybe it was because you were the only one."Not all the stories are about his writing, of course. He writes about squirrels, beards, smoking, cooking, museums, love, and death. A chair that is bound and determined to go up in flames. Lots of things. I've never read any of Hall's poems, although his children's book, Ox-Cart Man, is lovely and like poetry, but given how much I enjoyed this I plan to take a look at another of his essay collections, anyway.
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    Essays from a very old poet, Donald Hall, about aging, old age, death, and life. Generally interesting but sometimes a little dull, the essays ranged in topic from local wildlife, nature, marriage and relationships, deaths of spouses, vices, art, poetry, and the silliness and trappings of fame.I found it interesting reading about old age from such an old person. He touches on how society treats the very old--either ignoring them or condescending to them. He was once in a museum, in a wheelchair, Essays from a very old poet, Donald Hall, about aging, old age, death, and life. Generally interesting but sometimes a little dull, the essays ranged in topic from local wildlife, nature, marriage and relationships, deaths of spouses, vices, art, poetry, and the silliness and trappings of fame.I found it interesting reading about old age from such an old person. He touches on how society treats the very old--either ignoring them or condescending to them. He was once in a museum, in a wheelchair, and the security guard pointed out a Henry Moore sculpture and said "That's Henry Moore!", and Hall restrained himself from informing the guard that he had in fact written a book on Henry Moore. He has greater restraint than me! Later the same day, the guard found him eating in the museum cafe, and asked if he was enjoying his "din din." I will make a point of noticing how I treat the elderly in the future! I am not condescending like that but I probably do a fair amount of avoidance/ignoring... not cool.There was also a fair amount of "dirty old man"-ness about this guy. He was horrified at one point because the woman he was on a date with was mistaken for his granddaughter. To which he stated, "usually they are mistaken for my daughter, not granddaughter!". Ew?Interesting to get into the mind of such an old person and to hear his frank thoughts about being old. Made me simultaneously dread getting old even more, and yet also fear it less, somehow.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    I will begin with one criticism of this collection of essays. This is problem that many collections of previously published works share--some of the episodes Mr Hall describes and discusses appear in more than one piece. This flaw (if it is one) does not detract from the pleasure the reader receives from reading the clear, engaging and thoughtful writiung. The essays often treat potentially sad topics--aging and the concomitant loss of physical and mental vigor, character flaws, loss of independ I will begin with one criticism of this collection of essays. This is problem that many collections of previously published works share--some of the episodes Mr Hall describes and discusses appear in more than one piece. This flaw (if it is one) does not detract from the pleasure the reader receives from reading the clear, engaging and thoughtful writiung. The essays often treat potentially sad topics--aging and the concomitant loss of physical and mental vigor, character flaws, loss of independence. One characteristic ever present in these writings is Mr. Hall's sharp sense of humor and ironic wit. Several times I had to laugh out loud at his description of the reaction of a young poet to yet another rejection slip or the decline or prohibition of smoking in public venues. And though all the essays Mr. Hall refuuses to give in to self-pity, avuncular wisdom or pronouncements and advise oin matters outside his life as a poet and essayist and a New Hampshireman. What a treat to read this slim but highly rewarding and entertaining collection. Mr. Hall is a human treasure, warts, beard and all.
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  • Jane
    January 1, 1970
    Affirmation - Poem by Donald HallTo grow old is to lose everything. Aging, everybody knows it. Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.Then we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,that began without harm, scatters into debris on the shore, and a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand.If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful. New women come and go Affirmation - Poem by Donald HallTo grow old is to lose everything. Aging, everybody knows it. Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.Then we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,that began without harm, scatters into debris on the shore, and a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand.If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful. New women come and go. All go. The pretty lover who announces that she is temporaryis temporary. The bold woman,middle-aged against our old age,sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand. Another friend of decades estranges himself in words that pollute thirty years. Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge and affirm that it is fittingand delicious to lose everything. Reading this collection of essays led me to search out Donald Hall's poetry. The above poem captures the essence of the book. Reading it is a slow, calming experience. At the end, I felt less alone. Recommended to the elders among you.
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  • Joanne Clarke Gunter
    January 1, 1970
    I have enjoyed Donald Hall's poetry and autobiographical writings for many years, but I fear this will be his last book. He is 86 years old now and this book is the musing of a man nearing the end of his life as he recalls many of the joys and sorrows of his life, including his never-ending grief over the 1995 death of his beloved and much younger wife, the poet, Jane Kenyon. He reflects on himself as a young man and chronicles the many frailties of his now old body. But there is humor too. He s I have enjoyed Donald Hall's poetry and autobiographical writings for many years, but I fear this will be his last book. He is 86 years old now and this book is the musing of a man nearing the end of his life as he recalls many of the joys and sorrows of his life, including his never-ending grief over the 1995 death of his beloved and much younger wife, the poet, Jane Kenyon. He reflects on himself as a young man and chronicles the many frailties of his now old body. But there is humor too. He says that he and William Trevor (another favorite writer of mine who is also 86) are near the top of the soon-to-be-dead-writers lottery. This is a bitter-sweet book but, as always, I enjoyed Donald Hall's crystal clear writing and candor.
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  • Jeff Zell
    January 1, 1970
    I have enjoyed Donald Hall's poems for years. His second wife Jane Kenyon is also a favorite. But, this is not a book of poems. These are personal essays. He writes from the vantage point of hi 80's. He is thrilled to still be writing, breathing, etc. Most of these essays look backwards. If you want to learn more about the man Donald Hall, this is a good place to start. We learn about his first wife, then his true love, Jane, who is his second wife. Then his loves since then. Life on Eagle Pond I have enjoyed Donald Hall's poems for years. His second wife Jane Kenyon is also a favorite. But, this is not a book of poems. These are personal essays. He writes from the vantage point of hi 80's. He is thrilled to still be writing, breathing, etc. Most of these essays look backwards. If you want to learn more about the man Donald Hall, this is a good place to start. We learn about his first wife, then his true love, Jane, who is his second wife. Then his loves since then. Life on Eagle Pond Farm has been a productive one for him. There are no regrets about leaving the tenured professorship at Universith of Michigan, Ann Arbor for life in the country. If you enjoy ruminations and trips down memory lane, you will enjoy this book. I did.
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  • Christopher Stevenson
    January 1, 1970
    I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't love this book. I had to take a break for week because he covers mortality with a strong lens. Hall is an amazing essayist.
  • Ruth
    January 1, 1970
    This book seemed a natural for me, since I'm going to hit the big 8-0 soon. I was not disappointed.
  • Kathy
    January 1, 1970
    You don't have to be a fan of poetry to enjoy this book. It is a very honest portrait of life experiences over eighty decades including celebrity, travel, friends and family - from poorest times to comfort with poignant grief vs ribald living. Some quotes: "Dylan Thomas's popularity was not only on account of his voice or his verse. Thomas was a star, and most people came to his readings because of the Tales of Master Dylan...but if people attended because of his celebrity, at least they were go You don't have to be a fan of poetry to enjoy this book. It is a very honest portrait of life experiences over eighty decades including celebrity, travel, friends and family - from poorest times to comfort with poignant grief vs ribald living. Some quotes: "Dylan Thomas's popularity was not only on account of his voice or his verse. Thomas was a star, and most people came to his readings because of the Tales of Master Dylan...but if people attended because of his celebrity, at least they were going to a poetry reading.""Nine-tenths of the contemporary poets who win prizes and praises, who are applauded the most, who are treated everywhere like emperors--or like statues of emperors--will go unread in thirty years.""Sometimes an audience is not three thousand. A friend of mine arrived at a hall to find that his listener was singular. They went out for a beer. I heard of another poet who showed up for a crowd of two. Gamely, she did a full reading from the podium, and afterward descended to shake the hands of her crowd. One was dead."Regarding life with his wife Jane:"Our move made for the best years of our existence. My poems improved, and I wrote magazine pieces about baseball and New Hampshire. Year after year Jane committed to the life of poetry and we thrived in double solitude.""Jane died at forty-seven after fifteen months of leukemia. I mourned her deeply, I wrote nothing but elegy, I wailed her loss, but--as I excused myself in a poem--'Lust is grief'"America at one time in the not so distant past:"Sunday nights we ate sandwiches at a small rolling table next to the radio while we listened to Jack Benny at six p.m. The program was half an hour long, followed by Phil Harris and then Fred Allen...The sandwiches were processed cheese spread on Wonder Bread with the crusts cut off and each sandwich split in half. The cheese came in little Kraft glasses--pineapple and cream cheese, pimento and orange cheese spread. When they were empty, the little glasses, smaller at the bottom and wider at the top, could hold our canned orange juice."Aging:"My problem isn't death but old age...I sit daydreaming about what I might do next: putting on a sweater or eating a piece of pie or calling my daughter. Sometimes I break through my daydream to stand up.""Days are not boring because I read and write different things, and because writing sustains me.""I inhabit the only computerless house the length of Route 4, and i don't have an iThing...Apparently Facebook exists to extinguish friendship. E-mail and texting destroy the post office.""When I was thirty, I lived in the future because the present was intolerable. When I was fifty and sixty, the day of love and work repeated itself year after year. Old age sits in a chair, writing a little and diminishing. Exhaustion limits energy.""Dylan Thomas wrote a villanelle addressed to his father, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." The rhyming line was "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." When I met Thomas I was twenty-three and told him I loved that poem, and he told me he didn't; he said he stole it from Yeats. (Yeats in old age liked to use the word "rage.")
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  • Trisha
    January 1, 1970
    “As I grew older,” writes former national Poet Laureate Donald Hall, “collapsing into my seventies, glimpsing ahead the cliffs of the eighties, colliding into eighty-five - poetry abandoned me.” But this book proves that while the poetic muse may have abandoned him, he’s still every inch the writer he always has been.It was written from where he lives in the rambling New Hampshire farmhouse that’s been in his family since 1865. Hall sprinkles his essays with stories about the people who lived th “As I grew older,” writes former national Poet Laureate Donald Hall, “collapsing into my seventies, glimpsing ahead the cliffs of the eighties, colliding into eighty-five - poetry abandoned me.” But this book proves that while the poetic muse may have abandoned him, he’s still every inch the writer he always has been.It was written from where he lives in the rambling New Hampshire farmhouse that’s been in his family since 1865. Hall sprinkles his essays with stories about the people who lived there as well as what he loved about the summers he spent there as child. But he’s also written about an eclectic mix of other memories and experiences – everything from cigarette smoking, to the beards he’s grown, the trips he’s taken, his somewhat jaded view of the book awards he’s won, his adventures and misadventures reading his poetry aloud, the wives and girlfriends he’s had, the cancer he’s survived and so much more. As could be expected, he often refers to his second wife the poet Jane Kenyon who died of Luekemia at a young age and whom he has never stopped mourning. One theme that dominates this collection is his love of the writing life, and how it has sustained him. He writes every day, usually in longhand and has never owned a computer. “Apparently Facebook exists to extinguish friendship. E-mail and texting destroy the post office. eBay replaces garage sales. Amazon eviscerates bookstores. Technology speeds, then doubles its speed, then doubles it again."Another theme that is woven like a thread through this book has to do with his acceptance of the diminishments that go along with his age - his lack of balance, buckling knees, and the “four wheeler” he has to push around when he walks. But he also notes there’s nothing to be gained by feeling sorry for himself. “It's better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns, and flowers,” he says, adding that “Not everything in old age is grim. I haven't walked through an airport for years, and wheelchairs are the way to travel.” My favorite anecdote has to do with when President Obama awarded Hall the National Medal of the Arts, leaning close to whisper something in his ear. Unfortunately Obama chose Hall’s bad ear and so he didn’t hear a word of it. Here’s a picture of this exact moment: https://nailedmagazine.com/wp-content...I really enjoyed this book and Hall’s chatty, conversational tone made it seem like I was in the presence of a wise but definitely unconventional and somewhat crotchety old man who I wanted to spend as much time listening to as possible.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    While certainly not unexpected, Donald Hall's recent death at eighty-nine years saddened me, the loss of a powerful literary voice. While I first learned of him through his poetry, I have been drawn to his prose, its honesty, its humor, a window into the life of a writer, a former Poet Laureate.There is a pragmatic voice that comes through Hall's writing whether he is talking about great poets of the 20th century whose works seem to be overlooked these days, Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, Archibal While certainly not unexpected, Donald Hall's recent death at eighty-nine years saddened me, the loss of a powerful literary voice. While I first learned of him through his poetry, I have been drawn to his prose, its honesty, its humor, a window into the life of a writer, a former Poet Laureate.There is a pragmatic voice that comes through Hall's writing whether he is talking about great poets of the 20th century whose works seem to be overlooked these days, Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, Archibald MacLeish, Theodore Roethke...or the relentless realities of aging..."My problem isn't death but old age...Friends die, friends become demented, friends quarrel, friends drift with old age into silence." The voice is soothing to me, writing about the cycle of change around him on his land, his early years with his parents and grandparents. (The casserole known as "Chop Suey," which had nothing even remotely to do with China, was as ubiquitous in my house growing up as in his. Hall labeled it "American haute cuisine.") Some might almost see this collection as a primer on old age, but there's so much more, living with grief, observations about life, making choices, living with purpose. His love for his second wife, Jane Kenyon, his home, Eagle Pond Farm, his re-connection to his first wife late in life, his memories of his mother, his grandparents, and the writing that sustains him are some of my favorite pieces. Better than that, reading this collection of essays has sent me back to his poetry.
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