Kunitz Touches Me

I’ve been reading Stanley Kunitz’s poetry almost as long as I’ve been reading poetry, yet his poems always seem fresh to me. Every time I come back to them I find something new that allows me to feel life more vividly. It’s hard to ask much more than that from a poet.

Although he seemed old when I first heard him read his poems in the early “60’s (perhaps because I was only twenty and he was in his fifties), he seems much younger when I read him now. Time has a funny way of doing that to us, doesn’t it?

His poetry has changed since then, perhaps losing a little of the passion of the earlier poems, but, then, I’m afraid I’ve lost some of that passion in my own life. The first time I read Kunitz, my favorite poem was “She Wept, She Railed” but for years my favorite poem has been “The Testing Tree,” whose lines “In a murderous time/ the heart breaks and breaks/ and lives by breaking./ It is necessary to go/ through dark and deeper dark/ and not to turn” come as close to summarizing my personal philosophy as anything I’ve read. These two poems alone more than justify buying and reading his Collected Poems, or at least checking it out at your local library.

His Collected Poems ends with:


Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Hopefully these poems I’ve looked at have touched you as much as they have touched me. As we grow older it’s too easy to lose touch with those things that touch the heart, to lose touch with those passions that make life worthwhile. It’s hard to read his poems and not feel that “longing for the dance” that is life itself.

Once again, the Northwest is being hit by high winds and rain and I had a hard time sleeping because the battered old pine tree kept thrashing against the bedroom wall, but I’m about to head out on another walk. I doubt I’ll hear crickets, but at the very least I’ll hear that old heart of mine beating against my chest wall as I try once again to lose myself in nature’s beauty.

You can find many references to Kunitz on the web:
An Atlantic Monthly Article

The Academy of American Poets

A Seattle PI interview

Modern American Poetry articles

APoetry Magazine Interview

A P.B.S. interview and video, my personal favorite.

3 thoughts on “Kunitz Touches Me”

  1. I agree with you, I liked his poems, particularly this one.

    It would seem the entire nation was battered by a bad storm last night.

Comments are closed.