Happy Birthday Stanley Kunitz!

Stanley_KunitzStanley Kunitz was born on July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Massachusetts. His many honors include the Pulitzer Prize and serving as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Kunitz was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and died at the age of 100 on May 14, 2006.

The Layers
Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

About This Poem

About “The Layers” Stanley Kunitz has said, “I wrote ‘The Layers’ in my late seventies to conclude a collection of sixty years of my poetry. Through the years I had endured the loss of several of my dearest friends, including Theodore Roethke, Mark Rothko, and—most recently—Robert Lowell. I felt I was near the end of a phase in my life and in my work. The poem began with two lines that came to me in a dream, spoken out of a dark cloud: ‘Live in the layers, / not on the litter.’”

Stanley_Kunitz-collected-poemsPoetry by Kunitz
The Collected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, 2002)

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