First and Last: Stanley Kunitz


Somehow my first copy of Stanley Kunitz’s Collected Works had gone missing, as books are wont to do sometimes. So I was happy to find a nice fresh copy waiting for me on the Half Price Books poetry shelf. I like Kunitz quite a bit because he seems like a simple man. His poetry is not bogged down in the sort of post-modernisms that many of contemporaries practiced. Not a beatnik, nor a neo-formalist, not an imagist, not a confessional poet – just simply a poet, lyrical and accessible in style. In another post I would like to recount his “Reflections” which begin this book, because they very simply describe everything I wish a poet and poetry to be. I’ll give you the first paragraph:

Years ago I came to the realization that the most poignant of all lyric tensions stems from the awareness that we are living and dying at once. To embrace such knowledge and yet to remain compassionate and whole – that is the consummation of the endeavor of art.

So, with that, his first and last:


Dissolving in the chemic vat
Of time, man (gristle and fat)
Corrupting on a rock in space
That crumbles, lifts his impermanent face
To watch the stars, his brain locked tight
Against the tall revolving night.
Yet is he neither here nor there
Because the mind moves everywhere;
And he is neither now nor then
Because tomorrow comes again
Forshadowed, and the ragged wing
Of yesterday’s remembering
Cuts sharply the immediate moon;
Nor is he always; late and soon
Becoming, never being, till
Becoming is being still.

Here, Now, and Always, man would be
Inviolate eternally:
This is his spirit’s trinity.

Touch Me

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 knelled 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 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.

Philip Larkin, “Aubade”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *