Constance
by Jane Kenyon


Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, MN, 1993. ISBN 1555971962.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/24/2005

Poetry; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

Jane Kenyon was a much celebrated poet in her lifetime. She was born in Ann Arbor MI and attended the University of Michigan. Her poems appeared in such notable magazines as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, and The New Republic. In addition to Constance, she had three other books of poetry published: The Boat of Quiet Hours, From Room to Room, and Let Evening Come. Ms. Kenyon's life was cut short by leukemia which claimed her in 1995.

How does one go about reviewing something as intimate as a person's poetic take on life, nature, illness, and the workings of the inner soul? I hope this reviewer does so with grace and respect for the life that is chronicled in the poems of this remarkably gifted woman. Each of Kenyon's books of published poems resounds with her intense connection to the natural world. And yet, while each book of poetry is grounded in this world, her poems resonate with an "other-worldliness" that is at once captivating, gut wrenching, and surreal.

I was first introduced to Jane Kenyon and her poetry by a writing friend who mentioned that Ms Kenyon had written a poem titled "Peonies At Dusk." This came about because of a story that included my mother's peonies in the garden details. And so, I set out to find this particular poem. What I discovered was so much more than a simple poem about a flower that evokes many personal memories. I found an intensely passionate woman who wasn't afraid to put her soul out on the page for all to see. In an ecclectic grouping of poems, Constance addresses among other things, the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, coats, flowers, prescription drugs, human frailty, illness, and a fiercely wise understanding of the essence of time well spent in a life that is growing shorter with each passing day.

Some of her poems are whimsical, some are astute observations of the world around us, and some enter that place that only those who have dealt with life threatening illness can truly understand...such is the case in the poem titled "Otherwise." Haunting in its simplicity, this poem takes its readers into that special place—it forces readers to realize that simple, ordinary acts of day to day existance could be, and ultimately will be, different in the face of serious illness. To look at such things as having a meal with a spouse, or standing up on two strong legs and realize that these might well be gone from the life one knows is a sobering experience. To be able to put into words the fact of knowing that things "might have been different" is a gift. It reminds readers to look for the positives in each day for someday those things could be taken away...for, as Jane Kenyon says so succinctly, "But one day, I know, it will be otherwise."

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