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Essays After Eighty

por Donald Hall

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16311128,095 (4.06)11
A former poet laureate presents a new collection of essays delivering an unexpected view from the vantage point of very old age.
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"Generation after generation, my family's old people sat at this window to watch the year. There are beds in this house where babies were born, where the same babies died eighty years later. My grandmother Kate lived to be ninety-seven. Kate's daughter, my mother, owed her "early" death to two packs a day - unfiltered Chesterfields first, then filtered Kents. My mother was grateful to cigarettes; they allowed her to avoid dementia. Before senescence my grandmother looked out the window at Mount Kearsarge, five miles to the south. As I gave in the same direction, I see only a triangle of foothill, because softwood has grown so tall that it gets in the way. When Kate was a child here, elms blocked the foothill. They grew tall on both sides of Route 4, some of them high enough to meet over the center of the road. When she was ninety-four, she stumbled on the porch outside the window. Her fractured shin put her in the hospital- Kate, who had never taken to bed except to bear children. Her hospital stay affected her mind. Three years later, in the Peabody Home, I sat beside her listening to Cheyne-Stokes breathing. I was holding her hand when she died."

"Divorce was miserable, as it always is, and we divorce for the same reasons we marry."

"Then Kirby became sick, and sicker- misery for children and grandchildren, melancholy and regret for me. Yet to my surprise and gratitude, it brought us together again, and it was a comfort to sit beside her and reminisce. We talked about a journey from Oxford to Athens. But there are no happy endings, because if things are happy they have not ended. Kirby died of cancer in 2008 when she was seventy-six. I survive into my eighties, writing, and oddly cheerful, although disabled and largely alone. There is only one road."

"It used to be that one poet in each generation performed poems in public. In the twenties it was Vachel Lindsay, who sometimes dropped to his knees in the middle of a poem. Then Robert Frost took over, and made his living largely on the road. He spoke well, his meter accommodating his natural sentences, and in between poems he made people laugh. At times onstage he played the chicken farmer, cute and countrified,eliciting coos of delight from an adoring audience. Once, after I heard him do this routine, I attended the post-treading cocktail party, where he ate deveiled eggs, sipped martinis, and slaughtered the reputations of Eliot, Williams, Stevens, Moore...
Back then, other famous poets read aloud only two or three times a year. If they were alive now, probably they could make a better living saying their poems than they did as an editor at Faber and Faber, or an obstetrician, or an insurance company executive, or a Brooklyn librarian."

"Sound had always been my portal to poetyr, but in the beginning sound was imagined through the eye. Gradually the outloud mouth-juice of vowels, or mouth-chunk of consonants, gave body to poems in performance. Dylan Thomas showed the way. Charles Olson said that "form is never more than an extension of content." Really, content is only an excuse for oral sex. The most erotic poem in English is Paradise Lost."

"In a question period I launched into my familiar rant about dead metaphors, asserting that when "I am glued to the chair" equals "I am anchored to the spot," we claim that a tugboat is Elmer's Glue. This afternoon I was obsessed with cliches using disability metaphors: the crippled economy, blind ambition, deaf to entreaties, the paralysis of industry, and...
At the end I summed up my argument. Guileless, I said, "All these metaphors are lame."
Why was everybody laughing?"

"My friend Linda spent two of her college summers working at a place called Eternal Peace, on the three-to-eleven shift. After she fed the patients, she pulled out their teeth and put them in a jar. One night she could not get a woman's teeth out. She pulled and pulled and pulled. One tooth came out dripping blood."

"Old Folks' storage bins bear encouraging names. I've heard of an Alzheimer's unit called Memory Lane. There are also Pleasant View, Live Forever, Happy Valley, Pastures of Paradise, Paradise Pastures, Heaven's Gate, Peaceful Meadow, Summerglen, Paradise Village Estates, Autumn Wind, Fountain of Youth, Elder Gardens, Harbor Isle, Enchanted Spring, Golden Heirloom, Golden Dawn, Pastures of Plenty, Thistlerock Farm, Village Green, Green Village, Ever Rest, and Everest.
At such an address our elders pass away, or rest in peace, or meet their Maker, or leave this world, or buy the farm..."

"When I was thirty, I lived in the future because the present was intolerable. When I was fifty and sixty, the day of love and work repeated itself year after year. Old age sits in a chair, writing a little and diminishing."

"One feature of old age is gabbing about almost-forgotten times. I think of my great-uncle Luther, born in 1856, telling me on the farmhouse porch how he remembered the boys coming home from Virginia. I listened to a man with a white mustache who shuffled as he walked and remembered the Civil War. I was almost ten. Then New England was torn by the hurricane of 1938. Shore cottages were swept inland, power went out, houses blew down- this house survived- and in the countryside whole forests were uprooted. Roosevelt's CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, cut up great fallen trees and preserved the timber by corduroying lakes and ponds with logs. For many years everyone in the East reminisced about the hurricane. At some point, ten year-old children who bicycled among freshly fallen trees will not be alive to remember the storm."

"I remember the Rape of Nanking. I remember when Franco took Madrid. I remember Susan Frisbee, who lived next to Spring Glen Grammar School. I remember Frank Benedict, Phyllis Mossberg, and Charlie Axel. I remember the Trylon and Perisphere at the 1939 World's Fair. I remember Hitler and Stalin invading Poland. I remember sitting in left field to watch the first game of the 1941 World Series. Joe Gordon hit a home run. I remember Pearl Harbor. I remember Guadalcanal. I remember buying War Bonds in school, ten cents a week. I remember leaving grammar schoo for the vastness of Hamden High. I remember V-E Day and Hiroshima. I remember meeting Robert Frost. I remember V-J Day and a woman's naked body. I remember Kennedy's assassination. With my son I marched on Washington against the Vietnam War. I remember 9/11. One day, of course, no one will remember what I remember.
Audrey said, "Sometimes it's hard." This farmhouse has a door, and I remember when Jane's body was carried out. I shut Gus into my workroom so that he would not see her leave." ( )
  runningbeardbooks | Sep 29, 2020 |
Terrific slim volume. Read it one essay at a time then let it marinate before you read another. ( )
  namfos | Jul 23, 2020 |
This was interesting at times, but too often it devolved into minutia without any real insight. It read a lot like something you would expect from any 80+ old man, which was a bit disappointing. ( )
  grandpahobo | Sep 26, 2019 |
I had heard of Donald Hall; however, had not read any of his works until he passed away and I picked this one up from the library. I loved the first essay and a few others but am I was disappointed as I was expecting something more along the lines of May Sarton's reflections on the experience of life at different ages. Hall's book may be titled "Essays After Eighty" but should have been titled "When I was Young". ( )
  bogopea | Aug 24, 2018 |
This was a delightful little book. The author is a great writer along with being witty and inspirational. He offers delicious slices of many aspects of human nature. ( )
  joyfulmimi | Jun 3, 2018 |
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A former poet laureate presents a new collection of essays delivering an unexpected view from the vantage point of very old age.

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