This collection continues the work of mourning that characterized Hall's collection, Without (see this database). Hall's wife, poet Jane Kenyon, died of leukemia in 1995, at age 47. Hall, considerably older than Kenyon, was married to her for more than 20 years; they wrote their poetry at home, in the farm house that he inherited from his family. The painted bed of the book's title is their marriage bed, as well as the sick bed where Hall nursed Kenyon, and the bed in which she died.

The book is divided into four sections. The first is a six-page poem, "Kill the Day," a detailed rendering of the huge absence so present in Hall's daily activities during the month and even years following his wife's death. The poem is rich with expressions of loss and the daily effort to continue living, and, as time passes, the need to remember a fading presence. "When she died, at first the outline of absence defined / a presence that disappeared." "There was nothing to do, and nothing required doing." " . . . her pheromones diminished. / The negative space of her body dwindled as she receded . . . ."

The second section, "Deathwork," is a series of short poems about the final period before Kenyon died--during which Hall and Kenyon both knew that she was dying--the period after her death, Hall's recollections of earlier times together, the painful process of disposing of Kenyon's belongings ("Throwing the Things Away"), of letting her garden go untended, of "letting go" ("Her Garden," "The Wish"). There are many striking lines: "You think that their / dying is the worst / thing that could happen. / Then they stay dead." ("Distressed Haiku") "Now I no longer . . . call her 'you' / in a poem" ("Ardor"), and, indeed, Hall in this book refers to his dead wife as "she," and "Jane," in contrast to the direct address he used in Without.

Section 3, "Daylilies," is a long (13 page) chronicle of life in the family farm house, reflecting back to Hall's childhood and moving forward to his adult ownership of the house. This poem evokes the life cycles of nature, the march of generations, the repetition of birth and death, the farm house in New Hampshire as a microcosm of the universe, and seems to mark the beginning, in Hall, of some renewed joy in life. In the final section, "Ardor," Hall writes of re-awakened sexuality.


Taken as a whole, this collection chronicles the movement from profound loss, grief, and withdrawal, to re-entry into life. It can, therefore, be read in its entirety with this trajectory in mind. But there are many individual poems that are stunning and, in addition, would be useful for those who wish to learn something about what it is like to experience the loss of a beloved spouse in all its complexity. Particularly striking and relevant are the long poem, "Kill the Day" (p. 1), "The After Life" (p. 11), "Deathwork" (p. 29), "Ardor" (p. 39), "The Wish" (p. 52). Poems that describe Kenyon's last days--her re/actions, as well as those of others with whom she was in contact--are both moving and important for caregivers and for medical professionals to think about: "Barber" (p. 22), "Folding Chair" (p. 23), and "Her Intent" (p. 24).


Houghton Mifflin

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