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Portrait of a Figure near Water

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Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner   
arsonist, held a match to her brain.   
She observed her life: against her will   
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.   
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled   
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it   
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:   
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes   
no sound.


Jane Kenyon, “Portrait of a Figure Near Water” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
Source: The Boat of Quiet Hours: Poems (Graywolf Press, 1986)
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Portrait of a Figure near Water

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