U.S. Poetry's New Chief: Donald Hall
U.S. Poetry's New Chief: Donald Hall
Newly announced Poet Laureate Donald Hall says he will work to improve poetry's standing in the United States, seeking to provide new inspiration to the medium.
Hall has lived for years on the New Hampshire farm that his grandparents used to own, and he writes in the room that he slept in as a boy.
Robert Siegel talks with Hall, who was appointed poet laureate on Wednesday by the Library of Congress.
The new poet laureate also reads from three of his poems: "Old Roses," "Man in the Dead Machine," and "Weeds and Peonies," which is about his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon.
NPR Stories on Donald Hall
Related NPR Stories
White Apples and the Taste of Stone
Selected Poems, 1946-2006
Hardcover, 431 pages |purchase
Buy Featured Book
Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?
Selected Poems by Donald Hall
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
White roses, tiny and old, flare among thorns
by the barn door.
For a hundred years
under the June elm, under the gaze
of seven generations,
they lived briefly
like this, in the month of roses,
by the fields
stout with corn, or with clover and timothy
making thick hay,
grown over, now,
with milkweed, sumac, paintbrush.
winter drifts, the melt in April, August
and men and women
who sniffed roses in spring and called them pretty
as we call them now,
walking beside the barn
on a day that perishes.
Hear Donald Hall Read 'Old Roses'
Weeds and Peonies
Your peonies burst out, white as snow squalls,
with red flecks at their shaggy centers
in your border of prodigies by the porch.
I carry one magnanimous blossom indoors
and float it in a glass bowl, as you used to do.
Ordinary pleasures, contentment recollected,
blow like snow into the abandoned garden,
overcoming the daisies. Your blue coat
vanishes down Pond Road into imagined snowflakes
with Gus at your side, his great tail swinging,
but you will not reappear, tired and satisfied,
and grief's repeated particles suffuse the air --
like the dog yipping through the entire night,
or the cat stretching awake, then curling
as if to dream of her mother's milky nipples.
A raccoon dislodged a geranium from its pot.
Flowers, roots, and dirt lay upended
in the back garden where lilies begin
their daily excursion above stone walls
in the season of old roses. I pace beside weeds
and snowy peonies, staring at Mount Kearsarge
where you climbed wearing purple hiking boots.
"Hurry back. Be careful, climbing down."
Your peonies lean their vast heads westward
as if they might topple. Some topple.
The Man in the Dead Machine
High on a slope in New Guinea
the Grumman Hellcat
lodges among bright vines
as thick as arms. In nineteen forty-three,
the clenched hand of a pilot
glided it here
where no one has ever been.
In the cockpit the helmeted
by dry sinews at neck
and shoulder, and by webbing
that straps the pelvic cross
to the cracked
leather of the seat, and the breastbone
to the canvas cover
of the parachute.
Or say that the shrapnel
missed me, I flew
back to the carrier, and every morning
take the train, my pale
hands on a black case, and sit
by the firm webbing.
Hear Donald Hall Read 'Weeds and Peonies'
Pale gold of the walls, gold
of the centers of daisies, yellow roses
pressing from a clear bowl. All day
we lay on the bed, my hand
stroking the deep
gold of your thighs and your back.
We slept and woke
entering the golden room together,
lay down in it breathing
caressing and dozing, your hand sleepily
touching my hair now.
We made in those days
tiny identical rooms inside our bodies
which the men who uncover graves
will find in a thousand years,
shining and whole.
Names of Horses
All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.
In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;
and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, up hill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day, hanging wide from the hayrack.
Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
of a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the window sill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.
When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending
one October the man who fed you and kept you, and harnessed
you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your
and laid the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your
For a hundred and fifty years, in the pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground -- old toilers, soil makers:
O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.
Hear Donald Hall Read 'The Man in the Dead Machine'
Mount Kearsarge Shines
Mount Kearsarge shines with ice: from hemlock branches
snow slides onto snow; no stream, creek, or river
budges but remains still. Tonight
we carry armloads of logs.
from woodshed to Glenwood and build up the fire
that keeps the coldest night outside our windows.
Sit by the woodstove, Camilla.
while I bring glasses of white.
and we'll talk, passing the time, about weather
without pretending that we can alter it:
Storms stop when they stop, no sooner,
leaving the birches glossy
with ice and bent glittering to rimy ground.
We'll avoid the programmed weatherman grinning
from the box, cheerful with tempest,
and take the day as it comes,
one day at a time, the way everyone says.
These hours are the best because we hold them close
in our uxorious nation.
Soon we'll walk -- when days turn fair
and frost stays off -- over old roads, listening
for peepers as spring comes on, never to miss
the day's offering of pleasure
for the government of two.
These poems appear in White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems, 1946-2006 by Donald Hall. Copyright (c) 2006 by Donald Hall. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.