The Sick Wife

Kenyon, Jane

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Oct-04-2005


Poet Jane Kenyon, very ill with leukemia (from which she died after a 15 month illness), describes what it is like to be so weakened by illness that she prefers to wait in the car while her husband buys the groceries. She is aware of how weak, helpless, and out of place she is--a middle aged woman, sitting in the car in a parking lot in the middle of the day--"she had learned what it's like / not to be able to button a button." She watches enviously as those around her--"even the old and relatively infirm"--scurry about "with such freedom" and drive off in their cars "so briskly . . . ."


A poignant description of how ordinary life is transformed by illness. Kenyon's husband, poet Donald Hall, writes in the Afterword to Kenyon's 1996 poetry collection, Otherwise, that she began writing this poem in March of 1995--she died in April, 1995. Kenyon revised it a few times but Hall believes that she would have revised it further, had she lived. Even if unfinished, it is powerful. Appearing in the same issue of The New Yorker, Hall's The Ship Pounding describes his experience of Kenyon's illness (see this database).

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York