Pond’s ice gives way to April, lovers betrayrnand reconcile, the body fights illnessrnand age. In this museum the clearestrnidea on display is the battle againstrncomplacency; one poem, honoring pioneersrnof flight such as Leonardo and thernWright Brothers, moves from buoyancyrnto cataclysm in just a few lines: “ingenuityrn/ and courage sustained them theirrnmoment’s release / from the ponderablernweight / of gravity. . . . But they / preparedrnus Dresden’s fire and Nagasaki’s.”rnWhile most of the poems here are lessrngrim, they consistently argue a quietlyrndignified carpe diem by their titles alone:rn”Winter’s asperity mollifies,” “The timesrnare propitious,” “We explore grief’s…”rnThese poignant balances indeed clarifyrnthe daily game called mortality, yetrnnot in a way that precludes Hall’s considerablernwit. For example, the openingrngag in “Mercury, descendant” (as in “descendant”rnfrom Henry Ford’s Model T!)rngives way to the final line’s “procession ofrnmotors following / a sable Lincoln.”rnElsewhere, Hall can sting with a rich venom,rnhis prey sometimes literary (“Letrnmany bad poets”), sometimes political orrneconomic (“Praise Mammon-Mazda”).rnYet even in the satiric glee of such poemsrna reader can discern a deeper sense of regretrnand self-accusation, as if the variousrnpersonae represented Hall’s own voicernat different points in his notable career.rnThis career—the “play” of words asrnthe poet’s “work”—is itself the subject ofrnHall’s most recent prose. Yet where ThernMuseum of Clear Ideas turns out to be asrnsatisfying and memorable as a championshiprnseason, Life Work bears the tonernof an already remembered one. Nearrnthe end of this “essay-book,” in fact, Hallrn(recuperating from surgery to remove hisrnliver cancer) writes of having just begunrna “new longish poem” that seems to himrnto give off “a posthumous odor.” If thernscent wafts through Life Work, it managesrnto do so in a way not altogetherrnsomber.rnA diary-cum-essay on people andrnthemes Hall’s readers have come to expect,rnLife Work parallels his ancestors’rnwork on the land with his own work onrnthe page. From the start, he admits therndubiousness of the comparison (“I’vernnever worked a day in my life”), all thernwhile reserving the right to make it.rnTurning from the daily game of poetry,rnhis plan here is to write each day “a fewrnpages . . . about my own work and thernsensibilities I derive from my parents andrnmy grandparents. Oh, I have many notionsrnabout work.”rnSo he does. Hall writes mordantly inrnpraise of the compulsive, serving uprnanecdotes culled from a lifetime’s reading,rnwriting, and teaching. We hear howrnthe sculptor Henry Moore—for Hall arnmodel of devotion to craft—at 80 built arnnew graphic studio next to his house inrnorder to extend his workday. Others appearrnsimilarly admirable for their worklustrnin old age: Frost, Emerson, Freud,rnHenry James. More admirable still arernLIBERAL ARTSrnCl XriHES MAKE THK MAN?rnA group of white guls rccei^’cd df .itli threats and bomb threat’! fur wcjrmg uAxtn blackrnclothing jnd hdir st its ID thcii lugh school in Morocco, [ndiaiu A;, the Chicago ‘Irihunernr<;pf)rtcd last Dtccniber, Kerry and Andrea Van Winkle stopped going torncl,isse>> at North Newton Junior-Senioi High SchtKjl after they were verbally and ph)sieallyrnharassed tor their “hip-liop” clothing. “I can’t send thcni back to tliat school,”rneiiniplained their niotiier. Marianne ‘im Wmkle. “1 can’t. I dim’t feel thcv will bernsdte Iheie. 1 don”l even feel safe eimuijli to go there to withdraw them from the school,rn’ilietr education has been totally ruined. This is Andrea’s senior year. It has nicsscdrnup her grades so bad,”rnHall’s own forebears, the New Englandrnfarmers and dairymen and jacks-of-alltradesrnwhose ghosts continue to hauntrnHall’s Mount Kearsarge and RaggedrnMountain, his Eagle Pond Farm, hisrnpoems. From his Connecticut grandfatherrnhe inherits the ethic of “woik-woikwoik”;rnfrom the New Hampshire side ofrnthe family, “wuk-wuk-wuk.” Even thernfarm’s outbuildings hold to this philosophy,rndoing their part:rnThe cowbarn lay along Ragged’srnincline, the west siderndropping down, manure pilernunderneath tie-up and pigpenrnbeside manure pile. The east wallrnunderneath the barnrnis huge slabs of granite wedgedrnagainst Ragged’s earth.rnThroughout his daily ruminationsrnHall tests the various definitions of hisrnsubject. “There are jobs, there arernchores, and there is work,” he tells us; wernpush through the first and second kindsrnof labor to reward ourselves with thernthird. He argues that, more than “whatrnwe do to feed ourselves and keep ourselvesrnwarm,” to work is to devote ourrnlives to some endeavor. For Hall this canrnbe summed up in a term he borrowsrnfrom the Indian novelist Gureharan Das,rnabsorbedness. That is, the contentmentrnresulting from “work so engrossing thatrnyou do not know that you are working.”rnAs age and failing health impingernupon his peace of mind, the writing continuesrnto absorb him, keeping him fromrnwondering how little time he may havernleft: “I cannot stop speculating—exceptrnwhen I work.” Such an aesthetic hasrnbeen Donald Hall’s commitment. Accordingly,rnhe quotes from the Gospel ofrnJohn at the start of Life Work: “We mustrnwork the works of him who sent me,rnwhile it is day: night comes, when nornone can work.” Hall extends that injunctionrnthrough each page of this finern”essay-book,” reminding us that even asrnwe work against the night we arc as wellrnworking toward it. In small tasks andrnlarge, “woik” or “wuk,” we seek absorbedness.rnFor there is, as Hall puts it atrnthe end of Life Work, “only one longtermrnproject.”rnJames Scruton, an assistantrnprofessor of English at BethelrnCollege, is the author of Afterrnthe Children’s Hourrn(Cloverdale, 1992).rn40/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn