happy birthday, stanley


    I’m not a big fan of quoting things in a post without making comments of my own. Anything I might post I probably found somewhere else online and is easily available to anyone. But I saw at the Writer’s Alamanac that today is Stanley Kunitz‘ birthday. He would have been 103. He lived to be 100; he hasn’t been gone long. I met him several years ago at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (which I wish I could get to again this year). His most popular poem, I suppose, is called “The Layers.” I have come back to it again and again because it has much to say to me. Tonight, I offer it without further comment as my birthday gift to a great poet.

    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 book of transformations
    is already written,
    I am not done with my changes.



    1. HI Milton,
      I have a question for you.. I wrote today about my noticing upon returning to US about labels americans seem to use. What bothers me a lot is the label of ‘right-wing evangelical Christian’ as if a liberal or democratic Christian is not a real Christian. Just wanted your take on what has happened in american and why all the polarizing.Particularly in the Christian world. I see you come from a Baptist background and are not part of the UCC congregation.
      Thanks! Love your blog.

    2. Wow – thanks. I’d not heard this before even though I live its reality daily. I couldn’t avoid connecting with the message, because it’s the essence of living–my life in words, in the layers.

      Thanks, Milton!

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