At Heart, A Rural Poet

Writer Donald Hall, who served as Poet Laureate of the U.S. in 2006, passed away last Saturday at the age of 89.

The Poetry Foundation says his poetry “explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects [his] abiding reverence for nature.” A prolific creator, Mr. Hall also wrote works of fiction, essays, plays and children’s books including the Ox-Cart Man which won the Caldecott Medal in 1979.  In 2010 he received the National Medal of Arts.

He retreated to his family land — Eagle Pond Farm — in a small New Hampshire town, where he spent over 40 decades living, writing, reflecting. The farmhouse was his “Muse,” said the New York Times in a 2006 profile.

In tribute to this giant among poets, here’s Mr. Hall’s masterpiece, Names of Horses.

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 oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
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 skin,

and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

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.

by Donald Hall

No comments yet.

Leave a Comment