Monday’s profile of Virginia Hamilton Adair revealed that poetry gave Adair “a place to go when happiness, joy, or exuberance came to her”—and a way to ease life’s sadnesses, like the death of her husband Douglass. As the excerpts that follow prove, they can create such a place for readers as well.
Alone, one, from all eons, moving into night,
unfearing and unwearying, from God’s hand
released for flight, and to that hand returning,
lend us your sunset courage at the end;
bright voyager, departing leave us wiser
for your great gift of hours; may we devote
to darkening earth this legacy of light
flashed from the mirrors of our mortal hearts.
—“Enormous Day,” from Beliefs and Blasphemies (1998)
and we shook so
the nail scissors nicked
your gentle neck
blood your blood
I cleansed the place
with my tongue
and we clung tight
pelted with Teutonic cries
till the player
lifted its little prick
from the groove
all arias over
in post-Wagnerian sadness
later that year
you were dead
by your own hand
blood your blood
I have never understood
I will never understand.
—from “One Ordinary Evening” in Ants on the Melon (1996)
Two decades of my youth, I lived on fire,
trapped in a deep delirium of desire.
I was the spirit’s wastrel and fool,
and I have taken fifty years to cool.
—“Living on Fire,” from Living on Fire (2009)
And on a granite rock rising
from the cool waters of Georgian Bay
turning aside from first love and the young
suddenly I contain and cherish all humankind
and the hawk overhead, the fish hidden below
and the beautiful snake sunning
on a nearby rock, my heart hovering
in the eternal moment. …
Now in the aridity of my age
on the dry boards of an old porch I lie alone
suspended in the enormous joy of being
still unknowing: is this divine worship
or earthly Eros? The deep chorale
in the pines like far-off surf, like the sigh
of tidal rivers, the tender suck of waves
on moist banks, hum of our spinning plane
all breathe for me and I for them
in the eternal moment
—“Moment,” from Beliefs and Blasphemies
We will be walking in Vilas Park
before sundown, and that huge feeling
vaster than the continent will rise
within us, unbidden, unforeseen, and I
unlike the men I love never ask
to know what will happen next.
—“Return to Madison,” from Ants on the Melon
[Y]oung Katharine, most beautiful dancer
Whirls through the Kentucky fraternity dances
In beautiful dresses her mother creates for her.
Tomboy and Gibson Girl, grower of flowers,
Most loving and giving and laughing and weeping.
She will marry her Robert and move from the Blue Grass.
She will dance to the end and I still see her dancing.
And I their one daughter Virginia, who danced
Through New Jersey, New England, Kentucky, Wisconsin,
At Harvard danced into the great heart of Douglass
In the loveliest ball gown of pale rose lace.
For thirty-six years in his arms I was dancing;
But now my Beloved has ended the dancing
Till I join the dead girls in their beautiful dresses.
And you our one daughter, the bluest-eyed Katharine
In the arms of another dear Robert from Harvard,
Dance away with the living, dance into the future,
Have beautiful daughters in beautiful dresses
To dance on forever; but tossed by the music
Devote a wild instant of love and compassion
To the dead girls dancing in their beautiful dresses.
—“The Dead Girls Are Dancing in Their Beautiful Dresses”
When I was two and twenty
with highlights in my hair,
I tried to love, my darlings,
and love was everywhere.
Now I am two and eighty
and snow is on the hill,
but age is not so weighty
for love surrounds me still.
—“Still,” from Living On Fire
Adair: I was doing a lot of other things. I was enjoying teaching tremendously. I taught for about 25 years in, I think, five different colleges or universities. And that was a full-time job, and I had a full-time husband and three full-time children, and there just wasn’t—wasn’t time to think.
Elizabeth Farnsworth: But you never could write it. You—although you weren’t publishing, you were churning out poetry all the time, weren’t you?
Virginia Adair: Well, it becomes a way of life.
—from a 1996 interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth for NewsHour
Click here to read Terry Ann Thaxton’s feature on Virginia Hamilton Adair.
Homepage image from virginiahamiltonadair.com