Collected Poems

( 2 )


"This volume may be the best that America has to offer today. Buy this book, read it, treasure it."—Philadelphia Inquirer
The early poems, long unavailable in any edition, sound themes that have always engaged Kunitz: life's meaning, the relation of time to eternity, kinship with nature, and loss, most poignantly that of his father. But despite the power of his poems about loss, Kunitz remains ardent in celebrating life. He fully lives up to his own advice to younger poets "to ...

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"This volume may be the best that America has to offer today. Buy this book, read it, treasure it."—Philadelphia Inquirer
The early poems, long unavailable in any edition, sound themes that have always engaged Kunitz: life's meaning, the relation of time to eternity, kinship with nature, and loss, most poignantly that of his father. But despite the power of his poems about loss, Kunitz remains ardent in celebrating life. He fully lives up to his own advice to younger poets "to persevere, then explore. Be explorers all your life."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
According to Stanley Kunitz, there is no great separation between the artist and his art. Combining both early and later poems, the 95-year-old poet laureate presents us with The Collected Poems, his life's work in poetry. With each new poem we catch the poet in the act of rediscovery, recommitting himself to the single most important act of creation -- the making of a self. In an exclusive interview with B&, Kunitz went on to say that "after many such remakings and rededications we arrive, if we are lucky, at a stage where we can find the self that we can bear to live with -- and even to die with. As I say in the opening lines of 'The Layers,' 'I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides...' " Kunitz's poetry reminds us that living itself is an act of creation, not only for the artist, but for all of us.
Philadelphia Inquirer
[T]he best that America has to offer today. Buy this book, read it, treasure it.
New York Times Book Review
[A]ffirms his stature as perhaps the most distinguished living American poet.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Widely, deeply and deservedly admired, Kunitz celebrates his 95th birthday with his first comprehensive collection in decades. Kunitz's oeuvre divides neatly in half. The first half, written before the 1960s, consists of elaborately stylized, neo-Metaphysical odes and lyrics, variously evocative of Blake, Yeats, Hart Crane and Allen Tate: "Engaged in exquisite analysis/ Of passionate destruction, lovers kiss;// In furious involvement they would make/ A double meaning single." Long out of print, these earlier poems won Kunitz a Pulitzer for his 1958 Selected. His current reputation rests justly on his very different, clearer, more obviously personal late poems--contemporary monuments of visionary clarity and understated wisdom, cast in long sentences and in short free-verse lines. These entirely convincing works--many of which are found in 1995's National Book Award-winning, Passing Through, a new-and-selected--reflect on justice, politics and the Vietnam War; on parenthood, divorce and happy remarriage; and as one might expect on advancing age. They also bring Kunitz face to face with a cast of remarkable ghosts--among them Dante; Roman gladiators; prehistoric Americans' "earth-faced chorus of the lost"; Abe Lincoln; Jewish mystics; "the larva of the tortoise beetle"; a bevy of outsider artists; and the poet's father, who died when Kunitz was young. One lyric revisits the poet's childhood dream: "Bolt upright in my bed that night/ I saw my father flying;/ the wind was walking on my neck/ the windowpanes were crying." Other poems examine inland Massachusetts where Kunitz grew up and Cape Cod where he lives; several translate the Russian modernists Mandelstam and Akhmatova. Concise and deeply affecting, the later Kunitz is easy to love, but hard to describe, since his craft consists so much in hard thought and hard-won simplicity. His works of the last few decades are permanent things; readers without Passing Through should pick up this more permanent collection. Oct. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It's hard to quarrel with this volume, which collects seven decades' worth of stellar work from one of America's foremost poets. Direct and down-to-earth, Kunitz addresses love, loss, and the gritty everyday in poems that are remarkably consistent in style and texture from the early 1930s to the late 1990s. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Robert Campbell
What makes this collection of a lifetime's work so valuable is the way it allows us to perceive the interconnectedness of all Kunitz has written. Each poem stands alone, but each also enriches the others . . . The pursuit of such interweavings makes of this book one long poem, in which symbols and themes recur in different contexts.
New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
“[P]erhaps the most distinguished living American poet.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393322941
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 285
  • Sales rank: 521,327
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Kunitz, much-honored poet, was cofounder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and of Poets House in New York City. He died in 2006.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    An Old Cracked Tune

My name is Solomon Levi,
the desert is my home,
my mother's breast was thorny,
and father I had none.
The sands whispered, Be separate,
the stones taught me, Be hard.
I dance, for the joy of surviving,
on the edge of the road.

    The Layers

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 bookof transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

    The Long Boat

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

    Halley's Comet

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there'd be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground's edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
"Repent, ye sinners!" he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I'd share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family's asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street—
that's where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I'm the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.

    Hornworm: Summer Reverie

Here in caterpillar country
I learned how to survive
by pretending to be a dragon.
See me put on that look
of slow and fierce surprise
when I lift my bulbous head
and glare at an intruder.
Nobody seems to guess
how gentle I really am,
content most of the time
simply to disappear
by melting into the scenery.
Smooth and fatty and long,
with seven white stripes
painted on either side
and a sharp little horn for a tail,
I lie stretched out on a leaf,
pale green on my bed of green,
munching, munching.
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Table of Contents

Reflections 13
from Intellectual Things (1930)
Change 17
Single Vision 18
Particular Lullaby 20
Promise Me 21
Strange Calendar 22
Poem 23
Deciduous Branch 25
The Words of the Preacher 26
Ambergris 27
Approach of Autumn 28
The Pivot 29
He 30
Very Tree 31
Prophecy on Lethe 33
Lovers Relentlessly 34
Nocturne 35
For Proserpine 36
Parting 37
I Dreamed That I Was Old 38
Night-Piece 39
Between Me and the Rock 40
Transformations 41
First Love 42
Last Words 43
Eagle 44
So Intricately Is This World Resolved 45
Benediction 46
In a Strange House 48
Master and Mistress 49
Organic Bloom 50
Beyond Reason 51
The Lesson 52
Vita Nuova 53
from Passport to the War (1944)
Reflection by a Mailbox 57
The Last Picnic 58
Welcome the Wrath 59
Night Letter 60
Father and Son 62
The Hemorrhage 64
The Harsh Judgment 66
Confidential Instructions 67
The Signal from the House 68
The Tutored Child 69
The Economist's Song 70
The Old Clothes Man 71
The Fitting of the Mask 73
The Supper Before Last 75
The Daughters of the Horseleech 76
Careless Love 77
The Guilty Man 78
Between the Acts 79
This Day This World 80
The Last Question 81
How Long Is the Night? 82
The Reckoning 83
Open the Gates 84
from This Garland, Danger, in Selected Poems: 1928-1958
The Science of the Night 87
Green Ways 89
When the Light Falls 90
Among the Gods 91
As Flowers Are 92
The Waltzer in the House 93
Sotto Voce 94
Grammar Lesson 95
She Wept, She Railed 96
Foreign Affairs 97
The Unwithered Garland 99
The Man Upstairs 100
The Approach to Thebes 101
The Dark and the Fair 103
The Thief 105
End of Summer 108
Goose Pond 109
The Dragonfly 110
The War Against the Trees 113
The Thing That Eats the Heart 115
By Lamplight 116
The Scourge 117
Hermetic Poem 118
To the Reader (Baudelaire) 119
The Way Down 121
The Class Will Come to Order 124
The Summing-Up 126
Revolving Meditation 127
A Spark of Laurel 130
from the Testing-Tree (1971)
Journal for My Daughter 135
An Old Cracked Tune 141
The Portrait 142
The Magic Curtain 143
After the Last Dynasty 146
The Illumination 148
Robin Redbreast 149
River Road 151
Summer Solstice (Mandelstam) 153
Tristia (Mandelstam) 154
The Mound Builders 156
The Customs Collector's Report 159
The Gladiators 161
The System 163
Around Pastor Bonhoeffer 164
Bolsheviks (Stolzenberg) 167
Three Floors 168
The Flight of Apollo 169
King of the River 170
The Mulch 173
Indian Summer at Land's End 174
Cleopatra (Akhmatova) 175
Dante (Akhmatova) 176
Boris Pasternak (Akhmatova) 177
The Artist 179
The Testing-Tree 180
The Game 184
from the Layers, in the Poems of Stanley Kunitz 1928-1978
The Knot 187
What of the Night? 188
Quinnapoxet 190
Words for the Unknown Makers 192
To a Slave Named Job 192
Sacred to the Memory 192
Girl with Sampler 193
Trompe l'Oeil 194
A Blessing of Women 194
The Catch 197
The Crystal Cage 198
Signs and Portents 200
Firesticks 203
The Lincoln Relics 204
Meditations on Death (Ungaretti) 208
The Quarrel 212
The Unquiet Ones 213
My Sisters 214
Route Six 215
The Layers 217
from Next-to-Last Things (1985)
The Snakes of September 221
The Abduction 222
Raccoon Journal 224
The Old Darned Man 227
The Scene (Blok) 229
The Image-Maker 230
Lamplighter: 1914 231
Day of Foreboding 233
Three Small Parables for My Poet Friends 234
The Round 236
Passing Through 238
The Long Boat 240
The Wellfleet Whale 241
from Passing Through: The Later Poems (1995)
My Mother's Pears 249
Chariot 251
In the Dark House 253
Halley's Comet 256
Hornworm: Summer Reverie 258
Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation 259
The Sea, That Has No Ending ... 261
Proteus 264
Touch Me 266
Notes 267
Acknowledgments 279
Index 281
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