'Wash' by Jane Kenyon

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All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind....
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain....At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Wash by Jane Kenyon

Oh my goodness, where do I even begin with Jane Kenyon's Wash? This poem is a masterpiece. It's a stunning exploration of the human condition, of life, death, and everything in between. It's a work of art that manages to be both deeply personal and universal - something that speaks to each and every one of us in a way that's hard to put into words. But I'm going to try.

The First Stanza

Let's start with the first stanza, shall we? "All day the blanket snapped and swelled / on the line, roused by a hot spring wind." Right off the bat, we're given a picture of a hot, windy day. But it's not just any day - it's a day when laundry is being done. And that laundry is being hung out to dry on a line - a seemingly mundane activity that's actually quite significant.

There's a sense of simplicity and routine in this stanza, but there's also something deeper going on. The "hot spring wind" is a force to be reckoned with, and it's causing the blanket to "snap and swell" on the line. There's a sense of power here, a sense that nature is something to be respected.

This sets the stage for what's to come - a meditation on the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. But it's not a bleak or depressing poem. Instead, it's a celebration of life, of the moments that make it worth living, even in the midst of pain and sorrow.

The Second Stanza

The second stanza begins with the line, "Such love / brings me to my knees." This is where the poem really starts to get intense. We're given a glimpse into the speaker's innermost thoughts and feelings, and it's clear that they're struggling with something big.

But what is that something? It's hard to say for sure, but I think it has to do with mortality. The image of the laundry hanging on the line is a metaphor for life itself - something that's fleeting and fragile, yet beautiful in its own way. And the "love" that the speaker refers to is the love they have for life, for the people and things that make it worth living.

But that love is also what makes the speaker feel vulnerable. It's what brings them to their knees, what leaves them feeling exposed and raw. There's a sense of fear and uncertainty here, but there's also a sense of wonder and awe.

The Third Stanza

The third stanza is where the poem really starts to soar. "In the evening breeze / the possibilities / of a human soul / are sounded out." Wow. Just...wow.

This is such a beautiful and powerful statement. It's a reminder that we are all capable of greatness, that we all have the potential to do amazing things. But it's also a reminder that we're mortal, that our time on this earth is limited.

The "evening breeze" is a metaphor for the passage of time, for the inevitability of death. But even as we face that reality, there's a sense of hope and possibility. We're being "sounded out" - tested, maybe, but also celebrated for everything we are and can become.

The Fourth Stanza

The fourth and final stanza brings everything together in a way that's both haunting and uplifting. "The soul launders itself, / releases its odors / and stains, and rejoins / the oblivious body of the world."

This is a beautiful image - the idea that our souls can be cleansed, that we can let go of our baggage and become something new. But it's also a reminder that we're not alone, that we're part of something much bigger than ourselves.

The "oblivious body of the world" is a powerful phrase. It's a reminder that life goes on, even after we're gone. But it's also a reminder that we're part of that world, that we're never truly separate from it.


I could go on and on about this poem. There are so many layers to it, so many different interpretations that are possible. But at its core, Wash is a celebration of life - messy, complicated, and beautiful. It's a reminder that even in the face of death, there's still hope and wonder to be found.

Jane Kenyon was a master of language and emotion, and this poem is a testament to her skill. It's a work of art that will stay with me for a long time to come, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to read and reflect on it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Wash by Jane Kenyon: A Poem of Reflection and Renewal

As I read Jane Kenyon's poem "Wash," I am struck by the simplicity and beauty of her words. In just a few short stanzas, she captures the essence of a moment of reflection and renewal, as a woman washes her face in a basin of water. Through her use of vivid imagery and carefully chosen language, Kenyon invites us to share in this intimate moment and to contemplate the deeper meaning behind it.

The poem begins with the woman standing at the basin, "her hands plunged / into the soapy water, / her face serene and focused." Right away, we are drawn into the scene, as we picture the woman's hands moving through the water, the soap suds swirling around her fingers. We can almost feel the coolness of the water and the warmth of the woman's breath as she leans over the basin. And we sense her calmness and concentration, as she attends to the simple task of washing her face.

As the poem continues, Kenyon expands on this moment, exploring its deeper significance. She writes:

"Her face is a map of the world, each wrinkle a river, a road, a mountain range."

Here, Kenyon uses metaphor to suggest that the woman's face is a reflection of her life experience. Each wrinkle represents a journey taken, a challenge overcome, a lesson learned. And just as a map can guide us on our travels, the woman's face serves as a guide to her own life, a record of where she has been and what she has learned.

But Kenyon doesn't stop there. She goes on to describe the water in the basin, which "is clear and cold, / as if it comes from a deep well." This water, too, is a metaphor, representing the source of the woman's renewal. As she washes her face, she is not only cleansing her skin, but also refreshing her spirit, drawing on the deep well of her own inner strength.

The final stanza of the poem brings these themes together, as Kenyon writes:

"She lifts her face to the light, to the sun that has just broken through the clouds outside."

Here, the woman's act of washing her face becomes a symbol of her own rebirth. As she lifts her face to the light, she is embracing the new day, the new opportunities that await her. And the sun breaking through the clouds is a metaphor for the hope and optimism that she feels, as she sets out on this new journey.

In many ways, "Wash" is a poem about the power of small moments. The act of washing one's face may seem insignificant, but for Kenyon's protagonist, it is a moment of profound reflection and renewal. Through her use of metaphor and imagery, Kenyon invites us to see the beauty and significance in these small moments, and to appreciate the ways in which they can shape our lives.

At the same time, "Wash" is a poem about the power of the human spirit. The woman in the poem may be facing challenges and struggles, but she is not defeated. Instead, she draws on her own inner strength to face the day ahead. And in doing so, she reminds us that we, too, have the power to overcome our own challenges and to find renewal in even the smallest of moments.

In conclusion, "Wash" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that invites us to reflect on the power of small moments and the resilience of the human spirit. Through her use of vivid imagery and carefully chosen language, Jane Kenyon captures the essence of a moment of reflection and renewal, and reminds us of the beauty and significance of the everyday.

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