Reading: Adultery at forty by Donald Hall

Donald Hall (b. 1928) is another celebrated American poet. Hall “has lived deeply within the New England ethos of plain living and high thinking, and he has done so with a sense of humor and eros.” He had lost his wife, Jane Kenyon to leukemia in 1994, with whom he lived a happy and harmonious poet’s life on their farm in New Hampshire, where he lives to this day. I read a short poem that might not be representative of his vast body of work, but shows the direct, simple language he is known for:

Adultery at forty
At shower’s head, high over the porcelain moonscape,
a waterdrop gathers itself darkly, with hesitation-
hangs, swells, shakes, looms,
as if uncertain in which direction to hurl itself-
and plunges
_________to come apart at its only destination.

It is all projection! A forty-year-old guilt-ridden man (or woman) who takes a shower after the sinful deed observes the hesitant waterdrops against the backdrop of the inevitability of their fall. The hanging, swelling, shaking and looming could be read as a description of the sexual act for my part.

The shower of course stands for the foreign, the place outside of marriage, not the earth but the moon(e)scape. The waterdroplet seems uncertain about the direction, not about the intensity with which it will move: It has already decided it will hurl itself. Its hurl is a plunge, supported here by the indentation of the last line, that spells out the clou of Hall’s poem, the coming apart at its only destination. There was only one destination, so the uncertainty was an illusion, the adultery (the actual fucking) was in the cards all along, it was destined to happen. Yet, instead of fulfillment, the drop ‘came apart’.

Such a sad song! Instead of redemption and inner peace we have a someone hurling itself at a self-destructive destiny, with a bubbling sense of self-importance as it ponders the fake ‘choice’ it doesn’t have.

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