Love Series: “The Shirt”

When was the last time you appreciated the physical appeal of your significant other? It is one thing to appreciate someone’s beauty or sexiness when they are dressed and intending to impress; it is another thing to see them in those moments when they are in jeans and a t-shirt or sweatpants, meandering around the house. 

It’s the little things that create the big feelings.

It’s amazing that the smallest thing can turn into something wonderful and consequential when it is connected to someone you love or admire. This poem, “The Shirt,” by Jane Kenyon looks at a little thing like a shirt, and she sees life and poetry in that shirt because it is connected to the man she loves. She sees the shirt in the way that only Jane Kenyon can.

She was a fantastic poet who could see the poetry in a pot of buttered grits. Through her poetry, she reminds us that so much about loving is about seeing, sensing, and experiencing. Note the details she adds about the shirt, but also note the details that she leaves out.  

I have taught this poem a few times, and it is a great poem to use to teach poetry writing; it uses very few words to create a powerful impact and impression; also, there is something of the poet in there that remains, her sense of humor, sexiness, and love. The man wearing the shirt, most likely her husband Donald Hall, who is a respected poet in his own right, has her complete attention, in the only way that a lover can.

The Shirt
This shirt touches his neck
and smooths over his back.
It slides down his sides.
It even goes down below his belt—
down into his pants.
Lucky shirt.

Jane Kenyon, OtherWise. Graywolf press, 1996, p.41

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