probably Whitman who tempts himninto such lugubrious mistakes as thesenlines from “Praise for Death”: “Let usnpraise death in old age. Wagging ourntails, / bowing, whimpering, let usnpraise sudden crib-death / and death innbattle.” It was the thought of Whitmannor of Christopher Smart that causednhim to write: “We praise death whennwe smoke, and when we stop smoking.”nBut if those aberrant lines are setnagainst the last stanza of “At Delphi”nwe see the difference when the poet isnat the top of his form. Before knowingnthis poem, I could never imagine that Inwould find an American lyric thatnwould give me the sensation of being anfigure in a painting by Hubert Robertnor Claude Lorrain. The speaker of “AtnDelphi” has told of a visit to the city ofnthe ancient oracle and of his rememberingnthe history of the locale. Thesenfinal lines distill his experience:nNo priestess spoke. I heardnone sound.nThe donkey’s sure andnnerveless plodnPast ruined columns of a godnMade dactyls on the ground.nI am not merely praising the restraint ofnthe lines, though Hall knows well annimportant point of which others arenunaware — that restraint is not a negativenvirtue. It is just that in these lines anquiet tone sounds a deeper resonancenthan in other poems where the voicenstraining for prophecy drowns out nuance.nWhen Hall’s ebullience is successful,nthough, he is more effectiventhan Allen Ginsberg or Anne Waldmannor Diane Wakoski or two score othernpoets who have made careers of ranting.nOne poem, “O Cheese,” is intendednpartly as a send-up of the relentlessnapostrophizers. (“O cheeses of gravity,ncheeses of wistfulness, cheeses / thatnweep continually because they knownthey will die.”) When his considerablenand considered humor animates hisnphrases, we can often find lines asncharming as this description of cows inn”Great Day in the Cows’ House”:n”Now these wallowing / big-eyed calfmakers,nbone-rafters for leather,,/ awkwardnarks, cud-chewing lethargicnmooers, / roll their enormous heads,ntrot, gallop, bounce, / cavort, stretch.nleap, and bellow— / as if everythingnheavy and cold vanished at once / andncow spirits floated / weightless as cloudsnin the great day’s windy April.”nBut for Hall the road of excess doesnnot always lead to the palace of wisdom.nHis humor too may betray him and in anprose poem called “The Presidentiad”nit does so murderously. I will quote twonsentences simply to show thatnaliquando dormitat bonus Homerus,nthat even the brightest among us maynhave profoundly moronic moments.n”Disraeli wore knickers and practicednswinging a golf club. He whistled frequently,nwhich annoyed Calvin Coolidge,nwho had affected the dress of anPrussian general from the 1870 war.”nThese sentences are dreadfulnenough to demonstrate clearly Hall’sncourage. He seems willing to try almostnanything. He must foresee that angreat deal of what he attempts will fail,nyet he goes ahead and gives it his bestnshot. Few contemporary poets of Hall’snstature have written so badly; we simplyncannot imagine Richard Wilbur ornHenry Taylor stepping so clumsily onntheir cravats as Hall does in the lastnsection of “Eating the Pig,” for example,nor in “The Wreckage.”nBut then few other poets are likelynto produce an eerie triumph like “ThenMoon.” “A woman who lived / in antree caught / the moon in a kettle,” thisnpoem begins, and it goes on to tell anwonder tale about how the womannboiled the moon down to a bean andnate it, and how it “grew / like a childninside her” until she had to give itnbirth. Now the woman nurses thenmoon “while the wind perches / like anheavy bird / in the void branches / of antree, beside / a cold kettle.”nThis haunting little story is presentednin diction as simple as anyonencan muster; the meter is an unobtrusivenline of two accents; the syntax isnstraightforward. The difficulties of conceptionnand composition are apparentnonly when we consider Hall’s purposen— to invent, using entirely traditionalnfolklore material, a new legend thatnaccounts for the lunar phases.nIt is tempting to dismiss this poet’snsimpler poems as being too obvious innintention and too easy in execution tonbear fruitful close examination. But hisnsimplicity is as deceptive as it is engaging.n”Old Timer’s Day” is a bit morencomplex than “The Moon” in its usennnof simile, but its language and narrativenline are just as simple as in the othernpoem, and its final allusive simile ascendsnto an effect touching and surprising.nThe lines report the sight of anfavorite baseball player of yesteryearnwho is taking part in an old timers’ngame, “laboring forward / like a lamentruckhorse” after a fly ball and catchingnit at the last instant. It’s a good catch,nand the spectators applaud. “On angreen field / we observe the ruin / ofneven the bravest / body, as Odysseus /nwept to glimpse / among shades thenshadow / of Achilles.”nThe animal metaphors that thenpoem has employed in its eadier linesn— truckhorse, filly, gartersnake — havennot prepared us for this sudden elevationnof comparison, the revelation ofnheroic dimension. The surprise of thenallusion transforms our experience ofnthe poem with a gesture that looksnnonchalant, the magician’s gesture asnhe releases a flight of doves from emptynair while his audience sits silent withnastonishment.nThat is my reaction, the feelings of anreader sentimental about baseball andnHomer, and there will be others whonfind the poem a little too calculated, anlittle too contrived. Yet Hall distrustsncontrivance, and it is parfly because ofnhis ambition to avoid it that he turns tonhis vatic and surrealistic repertoires.-Henis possessed by natural but contrarynurges: to use the poem as a means, ofnexploring new levels of emotion, newnplanes of discovery, and at the samentime to shape it into a dramatic andnartistic whole. One of his exercises innpersonification, “The Poem,” beginsnby describing the explorative function:n”It discovers by night / what the daynhid from it.” It ends by affirming thenmysteriousness of its subject: “Whonknows / what it is thinking?”nWell, the poet knows something ofnwhat the poem is thinking. Not becausenhe has written it, but because henhas written it many times. And if thenpoem manages to say something a littlendifferent to him each time, the way henhopes it will speak to other less accustomednreaders, it also manages to saynsome of the same things over again.nOur ordinary everyday lives are just asnmysterious and amazing as the imaginationnwe bring to bear upon them; innfact, there is no ordinary life that is notnesoteric at heart.nFEBRUARY 1991/27n