Jane Kenyon – The First Eight Days of the Beard

Jane Kenyon – “The First Eight Days of the Beard”

1. A page of exclamation points.
2. A class of cadets at attention.
3. A school of eels.
4. Standing commuters.
5. A bed of nails for the swami.
6. Flagpoles of unknown countries.
7. Centipedes resting on their laurels.
8. The toenails of the face.

I’m psychic. I can tell what you’re thinking. It’s something like, “Wtf???”

At least, that’s what I thought when I first read this, especially after reading a number of her other poems in the aptly titled Collected Poems. Usually Kenyon is very concrete, physical, simple. Even her metaphors are pretty straightforward.

I’m not really sure what I can say about this poem, except that it makes me smile every time I read it. And it certainly gets me thinking of unusual ways to describe things. For some of these, I can get why certain lines might represent a certain number of days of beard growth.

#2 A class of cadets at attention – On day 2, the growth would be still new, like the young cadets; yet they are becoming visible, standing at attention like the facial hair starting to darken the skin.

#5 Perhaps the roughness of the stubble by that day is like a bed of nails; yet, like the swami on the nails, the coarseness could be just fine if rubbed against someone who doesn’t mind the sensation.

But a school eels? Centipedes on their laurels? The toenails of the face??? I’m not sure what you’re saying here, Jane. I read in a memoir by her husband, Donald Hall, that she had written this about him while they were on a plane; I guess that, while traveling, he hadn’t had time to shave. If only we could look as freshly and inventively at those near us as Kenyon does in this poem.


2 Responses to Jane Kenyon – The First Eight Days of the Beard

  1. Angele Ellis says:

    Whether the sensation of having stubble rubbed against one’s face is pleasant depends as much on the coarseness of the hair as on the sensitivity of the rubbee. Some men have soft or gently abrasive beards; others have beards that are truly rebarbative–“the toenails of the face”–or even the steel wool of the face, the asbestos curtains of the face, the lava rock of the face…

    To me, the humor of this poem lies not just in Kenyon’s extravagant and inventive metaphors, but in the speaker’s underlying irritation (emotional and physical) at the man. Who just hadn’t had the time to shave. In eight painful days. The selfish bastard. Love, Jane.

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