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Happiness

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                  It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

—Jane Kenyon

from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, 2005
Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, MN

Copyright 2005 by Jane Kenyon. All rights reserved.

“Happiness” Copyright 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted from Collected Poems with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

New Hampshire's poet laureate at the time of her untimely death at age forty-seven, Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) was noted for verse that probed the inner psyche, particularly with regard to her own battle against the depression that lasted throughout much of her adult life. Writing for the last two decades of her life at her farm in northern New England, Kenyon is also remembered for her stoic portraits of domestic and rural life.

Learn more about Jane Kenyon at The Poetry Foundation.