Empty high school on Saturday

The Clothes Pin

by Jane Kenyon

How much better it is

to carry wood to the fire

than to moan about your life.

How much better

to throw the garbage

onto the compost, or to pin the clean

sheet on the line

with a gray-brown wooden clothes pin!

Did I really think a lonely and despondent teenager would come across this poem, drop his backpack and shout joyfully, “Dude!  Get me to a woodpile!”?  Ah well, we all have our little fantasies. Unfortunately I posted the poem on a Saturday, and it rained heavily all the next day.  “The Clothes Pin” could have used a clothes pin of its own to dry out.

Still, the connections and disconnections between this poem and the high school it landed in gave me some pleasure.  Jane Kenyon grew up 45 minutes from this school and attended a nearby university where the most gifted students here will probably also attend.  She suffered depression, so her version of “better to light a candle than curse the darkness” carries weight and strikes me as useful advice for teens experiencing the normal downturns of mood and energy. And finally, she died when she was my age—47—of leukemia, which is where the connections stop and the disconnections begin.

Positioning this poem, with its rural images of firewood, compost piles and the air-dried sheet, in an institutional setting was intentional.  The world of this hardy little poem is as foreign to the world of smart boards, processed cafeteria food and security guards as the silence that surrounds it is to an ipod generation.  I find the same comforts in reading Kenyon as I do in the essays of New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg.  Their writings about life in the country become a resting place for me.

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