Work That Builds a Sense of Home
A CONVERSATION WITH POET DONALD HALL
(Page 2 of 3)
Aside from the financial insecurity, the new home must have involved a deeper emotional shift. In your long poem, "The One Day," there's a passage that reads:Skip to next paragraph
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The one day recalls us to hills and meadows, to moss, roses, dirt, apples, and the breathing of timothy - away from the yellow chair, from blue smoke and daydream. Leave behind appointments listed on the printout! Leave behind manila envelopes! Leave dark suits behind, boarding passes, and souffles at the chancellor's house!
Tell me about the interior change you must have felt.
Absolutely.... When I lived in Ann Arbor, my sense of time was so different from what it became here.... I was never content in the present that I lived in. Most of the time I remember thinking, "well, in just another year and a half, maybe I can take a year off and go to England," or I can do this and that. You know, there are so many people who live for retirement. "Five years from now ... , then I can retire and go where I want." One of the most important things of my life was the early death of my fa ther who had worked at a job that he did not love, and who planned to retire - and then died at 55. This is a common American story, probably a common human story, but I was determined it should not happen to me. When I lived here less than a year, I realized suddenly that I was living in the present for the first time of my life.... That I got up in the morning and I sniffed the wind and I saw where the sun was and I looked at things and I got to work - and I lived in that moment. And if I looked forward, it was looking forward to waking up to the next day. It wasn't looking forward to some trip I was going to make six months from now or some career change 10 years from now. I was where I wanted to be. This was an extraordinary change. ... It led to the biggest inward change. It was that sense of time. And of course, that's another way of speaking of happiness. Curiously, or frustratingly, the greatest happiness is not to know you are happy, is not to know what time it is, is to be lost in the hour....
Reading your memoir about your summers at Eagle Pond as a boy, it struck me that you had almost a Confucian regard for age and for the wisdom that is passed on through generations. It's remarkable in someone so young. Where do you think that feeling came from?
I was the only grandchild of two sets of grandparents.... In New Hampshire, the old people were the ones who were so attractive. The young people I met up there, the middle-aged people, were pretty quiet, rather dour. The old people were the wonderful storytellers and the repositories of so much that fascinated me.... When I was away from those old people, I dreamed up questions to ask them to prompt new stories. My grandfather was at the center of it, probably at the center of my life - my New Hampshire grandfather, the old farmer Wesley Wells. He was a great storyteller as well as a reciter of poems.... Most of the stories he told were just reminiscence, anecdote. And he told them with a wonderful sense of narrative, a wonderful sense of shapeliness. And he loved language - not like poetic language, but the good come-back, the witty turn of phrase. ... He just loved it that he had someone who was a good audience for his stories. ... So there was a kind of pattern in me of love for old people which I thin k has gone through the rest of my life.
So much of your writing is about "home-making in both the literal sense of "one's daily labors" and in the mythical dimension of human culture. Robert Frost certainly had his say about the idea of "home" in his New Hampshire poems. How does it shape your work and language?
Home is a comfort. Home is where you want to stay, where you can imagine yourself living in the ... present moment, just continuously canceling out time. When I was away from here, when I was in bad times, I had an image in my head [of "home"], a physical image, the topographical landscape of this place with all the associations of family, of history.... It invited me and comforted me.... I think I have "home" in a sense more than most people are able to - and maybe sometimes I am shy of speaking about i t. There was an old cartoon when Goldwater was running for the presidency in which Herblock had Goldwater saying to a beggar woman, "Why don't you go inherit a department store." I feel that way about my connectedness here. I have this, and I can't tell other people, "why don't you go have it." I'm just the lucky one....