Donald Hall

Epistolary Poems


            I enjoyed reading some epistolary poems in class, particularly Letter in Autumn by Donald Hall and I also listened to the Letter with No Address also by Donald Hall (posted on blackboard). I don’t normally like long poems, especially ones that don’t rhyme but I really enjoyed these two. Both poems deal with the very relatable subject of loss, which keeps me interested, but I most liked that these poems were written in epistolary form. You can feel an immediacy of emotion in these poems because their form gives Hall a lot of freedom, he can speak directly to the person he is writing about instead of an audience, we don’t need to know all the back story because what really care about in these poems in the raw emotion, the relationship between Hall and his wife, and the hollow feeling of loss.


            I cannot discard

Your jeans or lotions or T-shirts.

I cannot disturb your tumbles

Of scarves and floppy hats.

Lost unfinished things remain

On your desk, in your purse

Or Shaker basket. Under a cushion

I discover your silver thimble.

Today when the telephone rang

I though it was you (Letter in Autumn)


This stanza is a good example hollow feeling of loss that Hall demonstrates using the epistolary form. I don’t think that this effect could be achieved as well with out it because the scarves, hats, thimble, and all the other small details Hall mentions don’t mean anything to the reader, but they mean something to him and his wife and this clearly shows their strong relationship was.


While I was listening to Letter with No Address I found myself having a pretty strong emotional reaction, which is uncommon for me when it comes to poetry.  In this poem Hall doesn’t put as much emphasis on everyday objects, but he does talk about their memories and important people in their lives. Again, this is all back-story that the reader only cares about because it shows the close bond between Hall and his wife.


Your presence in this house
is almost as enormous
and painful as your absence.
Driving home from Tilton,
I remember how you cherished
that vista with its center
the red door of a farmhouse
against green fields.


This stanza shows the empty loss that Hall is feeling and it also shows how he sees his wife everywhere. Every thing he sees is tied into her, or into a memory that they share, and he consistently illustrates this using the epistolary form. Seeing this one sided conversation tells more from Hall to his dead wife shows more about their relationship and they way he felt about her more than any other form could. 


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