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Introduction to The Day I Was Older

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Poetry readings: Christmas Eve in Whitneyville
Donald Hall Poet
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December, and the closing of the year;

The momentary carollers complete

Their Christmas Eves, and quickly disappear

Into their houses on each lighted street.

 

Each car is put away in each garage;

Each husband home from work, to celebrate

Has closed his house around him like a cage,

And wedged the tree until the tree stood straight.

 

Tonight you lie in Whitneyville again,

Near where you lived, and near the woods or farms

Which Eli Whitney settled with the men

Who worked at mass-producing firearms.

 

The main street, which was nothing after all

Except a school, a stable and two stores,

Was improvised and individual,

Picking its way alone, among the wars.

 

Now Whitneyville is like the other places,

Ranch houses stretching flat beyond the square,

Same stores and movie, same composite faces

Speaking the language of the public air.

 

Old houses of brown shingle still surround

This graveyard where you wept when you were ten

And helped to set a coffin in the ground.

You left a friend from school behind you then,

 

And now return, a man of fifty-two.

Talk to the boy. Tell him about the years

When Whitneyville quadrupled, and how you

And all his friends went on to make careers,

 

Had cars as long as hayracks, boarded planes

For Rome or Paris where the place was slow

And took the time to think how yearly gains,

Profit and volume made the business grow.

 

“The things I had to miss," you said last week,

“Or thought I had to, take my breath away."

You propped yourself on pillows, where your cheek

Was hollow, stubbled lightly with new gray.

 

This love is jail; another sets up free.

Tonight the houses and their noise distort

The thin rewards of solidarity.

The houses lean together for support.

 

The noises fail, and lights go on upstairs.

The men and women are undressing now

To go to sleep. They put their clothes on chairs

To take them up again. I think of how,

 

All over Whitneyville, when midnight comes,

They lie together and are quieted,

To sleep as children sleep, who suck their thumbs,

Cramped in the narrow rumple of each bed.

 

They will not have unpleasant thoughts tonight.

They make their houses jails, and they will take

No risk of freedom for the appetite,

Or knowledge of it, when they are awake.

 

The lights go out and it is Christmas Day.

The stones are white, the grass is black and deep.

I will go back and leave you here to stay

Where the dark houses harden into sleep.

 

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Christmas Eve in Whitneyville, Whitneyville, Rome, Paris, Eli Whitney

Duration: 3 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008