The Painted Bed (Donald Hall)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a relatively short collection by a poetry master. Though I don’t often read poetry, when I do pick up a collection, it almost always has Donald Hall’s name on it. This is not my favorite by him, but it’s very, very well-written. Detailing the years directly after his wife, Jane, passed away, this is his second collection dealing with the emotional desolation of losing his mate. I prefer Without, and feel like this is almost its ugly stepsister… but still, if I hadn’t been comparing it to Without, I’m sure I would have rated it (even more) highly.

Greater Detail:
Some examples from the book:


To grow old is to lose everything

Aging, everybody knows it.

Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads

when a grandfather dies.

The pretty lover who announces

that she is temporary

is temporary…

Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge

and affirm that it is fitting

and delicious to lose everything.”



When she died, at first the outline of absence defined

a presence that disappeared. He wept for the body

he could no longer reach to touch in bed on waking.

When the coffee cup broke, when her yello bathrode

departed the bathroom door, when the address book

in her hand altered itself into scratchings-out,

he dreaded the an adventure of self-hatred accomplished

by the finger or toe of an old man alone without

an onion to eat betwee slices of store-bought bread.


When Alice Lind finished

praying over Jane’s coffin.

three hundred neighbors

and poets stood in spring

sunshine. Then Robert

started to sing “Amazin

Grace.” out of the silence

that followed he heard

his own voice saying,

“We have to go, dear.”

Comparison to Other Books:
I think that Hall is a great poet, and I think a great place to start would be White Apples and the Taste of Stone as it gives you a wide range of his work, spanning 60 years (it also has a CD which is wonderful – I attended a reading with Hall once and there’s really nothing quite like hearing poems read by the author himself). I think Without is by far one of the most moving books I’ve read and details Hall’s emotions and life after his younger wife passes away… as I said in the review, this kind of feels like the lesser in a continuing series, but still… good.

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