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The Atlantic Selects

‘Old Age Is a Ceremony of Losses’

Sep 24, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Paul Szynol

Before Donald Hall died this June, the 89-year-old American poet laureate let a filmmaker into his home in bucolic New Hampshire. Paul Szynol’s Quiet Hours, premiering on The Atlantic today, observes Hall—whose prolific body of work is preoccupied with death, loss, and memory—in his senescence. Much like Hall’s poetry, the film has a meditative quality. Its long, slow takes “underscore the slow passage of time in old age and in reminiscence,” Szynol told The Atlantic.

"Often, at night, solitude loses its soft power,” says Hall in the film, “and loneliness takes over. I am grateful for when solitude returns.”

In the film, Hall reflects on his poetry and the one great love of his life: the poet Jane Kenyon, his second wife, who passed away in 1995. “I don’t believe that a day has gone by in 22 years that I have not thought of Jane,” Hall says. The poet’s twilight years were marked by the many small deaths that encompass the experience of grief. His despair, however, is not without “the wealth of memory,” a phrase he often uses in his poetry.

“I think I expected to encounter in him some darkness—a heaviness, brokenness, resentment,” said Szynol. “But he had a lightness to him, and a very life-affirming and humorous spirit, all of which I think comes across in his writing, too. I especially admire his ability to describe grief without sentimentality and self-pity, to accept an ugly turn of events and to draw meaning—and even inspiration—from it.”

In Hall’s poem Affirmation, he writes:

To grow old is to lose everything….

Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge

and affirm that it is fitting

and delicious to lose everything.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.