Donald Hall Found The Glory Of Brief GracePlay
Poet Donald Hall, of Wilmot, New Hampshire, died over the weekend at age 89.
In a short poem titled “Couplet,” Donald Hall gave us the image of Ted Williams playing in the outfield during an old timers’ game.
Williams, “laboring forward” after a fly ball, reminds the poet of “a lame truckhorse startled by a garter snake.” It’s a sad development, given that, as Hall puts it, “we remember” the outfielder’s body “as sleek and nervous as a filly’s.”
At the end of the poem, Williams catches the ball he’s been lumbering after -- just barely: “in his glove’s tip,” as Hall puts it. And, he writes, “we rise and applaud weeping: On a green field we observe the ruin of even the bravest body, as Odysseus wept to glimpse among shades the shadow of Achilles.”
Old-timers’ game as epic might strike some as a reach, but not the some who knew Hall and his life’s work. Everywhere he found the glory of brief grace, followed by the sad, inevitable decline and decay.
When he talked about baseball -- whether his spring training acquaintance with Dock Ellis and the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the many nights he spent in his New Hampshire farmhouse watching Red Sox games through the snow of a bad TV picture -- he talked about it with joy, and always the kind of joy enriched by appreciation for the brevity of each game, each season, every player.
In a poem titled “Names Of Horses,” Hall demonstrated similar reverence for the strength doomed to decline. After three stanzas celebrating the great and varied work of the farm horse that pulled a plow and a wagon daily and trotted the family to church on Sunday, he writes about the horse’s decline, its death and the labor of the man who finally put the horse down "shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you, where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.”
Hall’s monument is the labor of a lifetime, the daily work of an uncompromising wordsmith courageous enough to conjure up Odysseus and Achilles in a poem about a ballplayer and celebrate a horse, old and lame, as a hero, albeit a hero with no monument but flowers in the sand…and a poem.
This segment aired on June 25, 2018.