* Stanley Kunitz & the friday influence

Touch Me – Stanley Kunitz

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.


This week on the Influence: Stanley Kunitz.

This poem teaches me something new each time I read it.  On my first couple of reads a few years ago, I marveled at how the sound of the crickets gets played out in the repetition: “Desire, desire, desire”, how one line can have a drive like a heartbeat.

Then there was the revelation that the first line of the poem is indeed from his younger “wild with love” years, his quoting himself acting out the ongoing double nature of the poet: there is the poet who wrote the poem then, and the poet who looks at it now.  Whether it is a span of days or years, the poet(s) keep changing.


I remember telling a class once that if I had to choose one poem to make a case for poetry this would probably be it.  Mind you the list of poems that would back up such a claim keeps being revised in my head daily.  Still, this poem is always on it.  A man working in the garden remembering his youth, getting lost in his thoughts in his garden, asking to be reminded not of what but who he is, not memories, but the man – I mean, there’s the heart of poetry.

Here’s a quote from the man himself * :

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of. It takes on a life and a will of its own. It might have proceeded differently—towards catastrophe, resignation, terror, despair—and I still would have to claim it. Valéry said that poetry is a language within a language. It is also a language beyond language, a meta-medium—that is, metabolic, metaphoric, metamorphic. A poet’s collected work is his book of changes. The great meditations on death have a curious exaltation. I suppose it comes from the realization, even on the threshold, that one isn’t done with one’s changes.

This idea of change being the constant in life as in writing is what I admire most in Stanley Kunitz.  Valuing the life lived.  Poetry as the mythology of existence.


I posted this poem up once at a coffeeshop I worked at.  A regular asked me to read it to her on a break because she had forgotten her glasses.  After I was finished reading aloud, I turned to find that she had tears in her eyes.  I remained quiet, feeling that the moment had nothing to do with me, that I could say nothing because the poem had said so much.


Happy saying!


* http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3185/the-art-of-poetry-no-29-stanley-kunitz

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