Donald Hall, whose poetry was introduced to me in a fabulous CSUN contemporary lit course, passed away yesterday at the age of 89 in Wilmot, New Hampshire. When I read of his death today, I vaguely recalled that the first poem I read from him was about death, and when I checked my tattered old lit book, it turned out that this memory was correct: “My Son, My Executioner.” Many of the other poetry selections in this book from DH are about death also, but he had a happy life, or at least one can infer such from his bio, with a long marriage to his college sweetheart and a successful career.
This is the ending from one of my favorite Donald Hall poems, “The Black-Faced Sheep“:
At South Danbury Church twelve of us sit—
cousins and aunts, sons—
where the great-grandfathers of the forty-acre farms
filled every pew.
I look out the window at summer places,
at Boston lawyers’ houses
with swimming pools cunningly added to cowsheds,
and we read an old poem aloud, about Israel’s sheep,
old lumps of wool, and we read
that the rich farmer, though he names his farm for himself,
takes nothing into his grave;
that even if people praise us, because we are successful,
we will go under the ground
to meet our ancestors collected there in the darkness;
that we are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd,
and we die as the animals die.