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Ex-Poet Laureate Donald Hall Dies At 89


The poet Donald Hall has died. He was 89 years old, beloved for his plain language and its reverence for nature. He was once the poet laureate of the United States. And through a long career, he was a teacher, an essayist and an editor. He was also a guest on NPR a number of times, which means we have an occasion on this morning to hear his voice. Here's Tom Vitale.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Donald Hall wrote about love, loss and the landscape of New England. Some of his best-known work was published after the 1995 death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. Hole read his poem "The Wish" on WHYY's Fresh Air in 2002.


DONALD HALL: (Reading) I keep her weary ghost inside me. Oh, let me go, I hear her crying. Deep in your dark you want to hide me and so perpetuate my dying. I can't undo the grief that you weep by the stone where I am lying. Oh, let me go.

VITALE: Hall told NPR that he wrote about his grief as a way to ease his depression.


HALL: And for the first years, I wept a great deal. I went to her grave and talked to her. But I also came back home and wrote poems. But I didn't do it as an act of public help for other people. I did it for myself. And it did help.

JAMES LONGENBACH: All his work is elegiac, rueful.

VITALE: Critic James Longenbach is the author of "How Poems Get Made." He says Donald Hall will be remembered for those extraordinary poems following his wife's death and for the writing he did about his grandfather's farm in New Hampshire. After teaching at Michigan for 17 years, Hall returned to the farm in the 1970s and lived there the rest of his life.

LONGENBACH: He inhabited not only that place but the ghosts of that place, as it were. And it produced an extraordinary book about landscape and family and history.

VITALE: Hall wrote a number of books about the farm. On MORNING EDITION in 1992, he read an excerpt about winter from his book "Seasons On Eagle Pond."


HALL: (Reading) What a dazzle of spinning refracted light, spiderwebs of cold brilliance attacking our eyeballs. All winter we wear sunglasses to drive more than we do in summer, and never so much as after an ice storm with its painful glaze reflecting from maple and birch, granite, boulder and stone wall, turning electric wires into bright silver filaments.

VITALE: Donald Hall was born in 1928 and raised in Hamden, Conn. He began writing poetry even before high school. But in a Maryland Public Television interview, he said he really got into poetry when he entered Harvard, where his classmates included the poets John Ashbery, Robert Bly and Adrienne Rich.


HALL: It was the first time I felt at home with my own generation. Even as a kid I stayed a lot of time alone. But when I got to Harvard, I remember freshman year, right the beginning, and somebody brought up poetry. And everybody quoted something of a poem. I was amazed.

VITALE: Hall said he continued to adore poetry the rest of his life. But three years ago, when he was 86, he said there was no point in worrying about his legacy.


HALL: I expect my immortality to cease about seven minutes after my funeral. I write as good as I can, but I've had some people tell me that they knew they were great and that they would live in literature forever. And my response is to pat them on the back and say, maybe you'll feel better tomorrow.

VITALE: Donald Hall died Saturday at his family farm in Wilmot, N.H. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF RE:PLUS' "MOONSCAPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.