Five Poems by Jane Kenyon

1. In the Nursing Home

2. Let Evening Come

3. Having it Out with Melancholy

4. What Came to Me

5. Otherwise



In the Nursing Home


She is like a horse grazing

a hill pasture that someone makes

smaller by coming every night

to pull the fences in and in.


She has stopped running wide loops,

stopped even the tight circles.

She drops her head to feed; grass

is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.


Master, come with your light

halter. Come and bring her in.

            Jane Kenyon




Let Evening Come


Let the light of late afternoon

shine through chinks in the barn, moving

up the 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.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned

in long grass. Let the stars appear

and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

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.

            Jane Kenyon




Having it Out with Melancholy

……………If many remedies are prescribed
……………for an illness, you may be certain
……………that the illness has no cure.
…………………………A. P. CHEKHOV, The Cherry Orchard



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.


And from that day on

everything under the sun and moon

made me sad—even the yellow

wooden beads that slid and spun

along a spindle on my crib.


You taught me to exist without gratitude.

You ruined my manners toward God:

“We’re here simply to wait for death;

the pleasures of earth are overrated.”


I only appeared to belong to my mother,

to live among blocks and cotton undershirts

with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes

and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.

I was already yours—the anti-urge,

the mutilator of souls.




Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,

Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,

Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.

The coated ones smell sweet or have

no smell; the powdery ones smell

like the chemistry lab at school

that made me hold my breath.




You wouldn’t be so depressed

if you really believed in God.




Often I go to bed as soon after dinner

as seems adult

(I mean I try to wait for dark)

in order to push away

from the massive pain in sleep’s

frail wicker coracle.




Once, in my early thirties, I saw

that I was a speck of light in the great

river of light that undulates through time.


I was floating with the whole

human family. We were all colors—those

who are living now, those who have died,

those who are not yet born. For a few


moments I floated, completely calm,

and I no longer hated having to exist.


Like a crow who smells hot blood

you came flying to pull me out

of the glowing stream.

“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear

ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.




The dog searches until he finds me

upstairs, lies 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. . . .




A piece of burned meat

wears my clothes, speaks

in my voice, dispatches obligations

haltingly, or not at all.

It is tired of trying

to be stouthearted, tired

beyond measure.


We move on to the monoamine

oxidase inhibitors. Day and night

I feel as if I had drunk six cups

of coffee, but the pain stops

abruptly. With the wonder

and bitterness of someone pardoned

for a crime she did not commit

I come back to marriage and friends,

to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back

to my desk, books, and chair.




Pharmaceutical wonders are at work

but I believe only in this moment

of well-being. Unholy ghost,

you are certain to come again.


Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet

on the coffee table, lean back,

and turn me into someone who can’t

take the trouble to speak; someone

who can’t sleep, or who does nothing

but sleep; can’t read, or call

for an appointment for help.


There is nothing I can do

against your coming.

When I awake, I am still with thee.




High on Nardil and June light

I wake at four,

waiting greedily for the first

note of the wood thrush. Easeful air

presses through the screen

with the wild, complex song

of the bird, and I am overcome


by ordinary contentment.

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.

            Jane Kenyon




What Came to Me


I took the last

dusty piece of china

out of the barrel.

It was your gravy boat,

with a hard, brown

drop of gravy still

on the porcelain lip.

I grieved for you then

as I never had before.






I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

            Jane Kenyon


All five poems reproduced from the outstanding Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon (Greywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2005)



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