Jane Kenyon, “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”

Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer (from The Oregonian)
Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done — the unpacking, the mail
and papers; the grass needed mowing …
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass:
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

Comment:

This is a love poem, sure, but I wonder what exactly to do with its overtones of sensuality and indulgence. Is the couple coming back from obligation or vacation?

Their car causes gravel to fly up “like sparks from a fire.” It sounds sensual, but it is also the everyday, the mundane, exaggerated. Kenyon’s joke: gravel like sparks is more exciting to think about than unpacking or tending to the mail or lawn. The reluctance to get out of the car is in both body and mind. Why did the speaker notice the engine tick?

Either way, released from obligation or vacation, to confront the everyday is to wonder why all over again. There’s a really funny idea at play here. One goes from one indulgence in the case of vacation straight into another. And it feels justified. Kenyon brings us to a pear tree, the famous image of St. Augustine’s crimes and guilt. Here, the fruit on it looks good to eat and is easy to take. The couple in action recreates the Fall, stepping away from their domicile and its maintenance, but is grateful. Maybe “indulgence” is the wrong word. Maybe it’s that we can seamlessly move from times we enjoy to the people we love that is important, that we can take pleasure and it is far from wrong, far from neglectful.

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