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Jane Kenyon‘s “Christmas Away from Home”

Updated on December 22, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Jane Kenyon

Source

Commentary

Having traveled 200 miles away from her home to attend a sick woman, the speaker in Jane Kenyon’s “Christmas Away from Home” becomes homesick.

Jane Kenyon‘s “Christmas Away from Home” describes the neighborhood of the infirm woman with whom the speaker is staying while the latter cares for the former in her time of illness.

As the speaker walks the sick woman’s dog, the speaker reports what she sees in the neighborhood. She then begins to muse about her own home, from which she must remain away at Christmas time.

First Movement: “Her sickness brought me to Connecticut”

The speaker has traveled at least 200 miles south to Connecticut to tend a woman who is ill. The speaker does not divulge the nature of the illness, nor does she ever report who the sick woman is. The poor invalid may be a relative or just a friend, but the speaker deems that information unimportant for her story.

Likely the reason that readers are kept ignorant about those two details is that the speaker is focusing on herself and her own experience of being away from home at Christmas.

The speaker begins by reporting that every morning her task is to walk the dog. She declares, “that part of life is intact,” as well it would be, because dogs become quite insistent in making sure they get their daily walk in. Those creatures of habit can be quite persuasive.

The speaker then begins to reveal what she sees in the neighborhood. She observes, “[w]ho’s painted, who’s insulated / or put siding on.” She also notes who has, “burned the lawn / with lime.” Then she leaves those reports by declaring, “that’s the news on Ardmore Street.”

Second Movement: “The leaves of the neighbor's respectable”

As the speaker continues her walk, though, she takes up again her report on the sights that the neighborhood has to offer. She observes that one neighbor’s “rhododendron” leaves are “curl[ing] under in the cold.”

That particular neighbor has just left for work; he has, “backed his car / through the white nimbus of exhaust.” She guesses that he is now gone "for the day.”

Third Movement: “In the hiatus between mayors”

The speaker has been made cognizant that the leaves have been left to gather abundantly in the gutters. She claims that it is because the town is on a “hiatus between mayors.” The cars swishing through all those leaves swirl them and whip them up into “maelstroms.”

Fourth Movement: “We pass the house two doors down, the one”

The speaker and the dog continue on with their walk. They move past a house with Christmas decorations, and the speaker claims that this house professes the “wildest lights in the neighborhood.”

She summarizes her commentary on the view, claiming the scene to be "without irony." Apparently, that particular yard also has on display even in summer various religious symbols, such as one of St. Francis feeding his birds, along with a putto, or a cupid-like figure, pouring water out of a jar.

Because it is Christmastime, this yard now has on display, "angels, festoons, waist-high / candles, and swans pulling sleighs."

Fifth Movement: “Two hundred miles north I'd let the dog”

The speaker lives 200 miles north of this neighborhood where she is stationed caring for the sick woman. Thus, she commences to compare what she would be doing if she were home to what she is doing here.

If she were home, she would let her dog roam free, "among birches and the black shade of pines.” Not have him on a leash, walking him through a gaudy neighborhood all festooned with obnoxious Christmas regalia!

The speaker then lets loose her melancholic homesickness: she misses "the hills, the woods and stony / streams.”

She longs for the quietness of her rustic homestead where “the swish of jacket sleeves / against my sides seems loud.” She also has become homesick for the sound of “a crow” that would “caw[ ] sleepily at dawn.”

Sixth Movement: “By now the streams must run under a skin”

The speaker continues to muse on what might be happening back at her own home. She visualizes the streams having ice thinly coating them. She perceives "white air-bubbles" in the streams and makes the bizarre claim that they would be moving “erratically, / like blood cells through a vein.”

Concluding her rather self-indulgent thoughts of melancholy, she seems to find it comforting that she will be receiving her mail for home soon, after having it forwarded. She is sad to have to remain away from home but getting mail from home will help.

Final Comment

This poem lacks soul. It seems to exist for no other reason than to showcase the speaker's pride in her own possessions and points of view.

The speaker is supposedly attending a sick woman yet fails to make that woman real. Using a sick woman as a foil for showcasing one's own conceited, self-centered nature seems the height of character poverty.

Recitation of Kenyon's "Let Evening Come"

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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