cover image Halfway Down the Hall

Halfway Down the Hall

Rachel Hadas / Author Wesleyan University Press $18.95 (250p)

""Though my preference is for/ an utterance that aims at more--/ a single splendid edifice,/ not an untidy humble nest...both are made of the same stuff,/ our ever-raveling human cloth."" Starting with the torn, fragmentary images of her first collection, Starting from Troy (1975), Hadas's interest in classical literature and translation is reflected throughout this choice from her 12 books, having developed from an emblem of the ruinous to an ability to balance memory and self-composure. With A Son from Sleep (1987), Hadas's concerns shift with the advent of motherhood, exploring the constituent elements of sound and language as formed by children's private codes: ""Ock for clock. And Ock is also hot."" Her descriptions of domestic life avoid sentimentality precisely because they emerge from such sparse examinations. The collection's most recent work is its most powerful achievement, summoning a prophetic intensity that nonetheless stays close to the ground: ""I must keep to my path and my path only--/ closing our cars to thunder and cicadas,/ closing our eyes to all those trembling branches,/ meekly turning our backs on opalescence,/ on the jewels of potential transformation,/ getting ready to go back down the mountain."" As in the simple, moving elegy, ""Searching the Scriptures,"" where the poet finds the Bible of a deceased friend, and with it an underscored passage of Christ's apocalyptic pronouncements, Hadas treads carefully the path between ""the old prophetic strain"" and ""life's sheer dailiness."" (Sept.)