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Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

from Flying Home

3 
As this plane dragged 
its track of used ozone half the world long 
thrusts some four hundred of us 
toward places where actual known people 
live and may wait, 
we diminish down in our seats, 
disappeared into novels of lives clearer than ours, 
and yet we do not forget for a moment 
the life down there, the doorway each will soon enter: 
where I will meet her again 
and know her again, 
dark radiance with, and then mostly without, the stars.
Very likely she has always understood what I have slowly learned, and which only now, after being away, almost as far away as one can get on this globe, almost as far as thoughts can carry - yet still in her presence, still surrounded not so much by reminders of her as by things she had already reminded me of, shadows of her cast forward and waiting - can I try to express: that love is hard, that while many good things are easy, true love is not, because love is first of all a power, its own power, which continually must make its way forward, from night into day, from transcending union always forward into difficult day.
And as the plane descends, it comes to me in the space where tears stream down across the stars, tears fallen on the actual earth where their shining is what we call spirit, that once the lover recognizes the other, knows for the first time what is most to be valued in another, from then on, love is very much like courage, perhaps it is courage, and even perhaps only courage.
Squashed out of old selves, smearing the darkness of expectation across experience, all of us little thinkers it brings home having similar thoughts of landing to the imponderable world, the transoceanic airliner, resting its huge weight down, comes in almost lightly, to where with sudden, tiny, white puffs and long, black, rubberish smears all its tires know the home ground.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Oatmeal

 I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unsual willingness to disintigrate, oatmeal should not be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something from it.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the "Ode to a Nightingale.
" He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his pocket, but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if they got it right.
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas, and the way here and there a line will go into the configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark, causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal alone.
When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn.
" He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field go thim started on it, and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours," came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneaously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

On Frozen Fields

1 
We walk across the snow, 
The stars can be faint, 
The moon can be eating itself out, 
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth, 
The Northern Lights can be blooming and seething 
And tearing themselves apart all night, 
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.
2 You in whose ultimate madness we live, You flinging yourself out into the emptiness, You - like us - great an instant, O only universe we know, forgive us.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September 
among the fat, overripe, icy black blackberries 
to eat blackberries for breakfast, 
the stalks are very prickly, a penalty 
they earn for knowing the black art 
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them 
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries 
fall almost unbidden to my tongue, 
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words 
like strengths or squinched, 
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps 
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well 
in the silent, startled, icy, black language 
of blackberry-eating in late September.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

The Perch

There is a fork in a branch
of an ancient, enormous maple,
one of a grove of such trees,
where I climb sometimes and sit and look out
over miles of valleys and low hills.
Today on skis I took a friend to show her the trees.
We set out down the road, turned in at the lane which a few weeks ago, when the trees were almost empty and the November snows had not yet come, lay thickly covered in bright red and yellow leaves, crossed the swamp, passed the cellar hole holding the remains of the 1850s farmhouse that had slid down into it by stages in the thirties and forties, followed the overgrown logging road and came to the trees.
I climbed up to the perch, and this time looked not into the distance but at the tree itself, its trunk contorted by the terrible struggle of that time when it had its hard time.
After the trauma it grows less solid.
It may be some such time now comes upon me.
It would have to do with the unaccomplished, and with the attempted marriage of solitude and happiness.
Then a rifle sounded, several times, quite loud, from across the valley, percussions of the custom of male mastery over the earth ¡ª the most graceful, most alert of the animals being chosen to die.
I looked to see if my friend had heard, but she was stepping about on her skis, studying the trees, smiling to herself, her lips still filled, for all we had drained them, with hundreds and thousands of kisses.
Just then she looked up ¡ª the way, from low to high, the god blesses ¡ª and the blue of her eyes shone out of the black and white of bark and snow, as lovers who are walking on a freezing day touch icy cheek to icy cheek, kiss, then shudder to discover the heat waiting inside their mouths.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Fergus Falling

He climbed to the top
of one of those million white pines
set out across the emptying pastures
of the fifties - some program to enrich the rich
and rebuke the forefathers
who cleared it all at once with ox and axe - 
climbed to the top, probably to get out
of the shadow
not of those forefathers but of this father
and saw for the first time
down in its valley, Bruce Pond, giving off
its little steam in the afternoon,

pond where Clarence Akley came on Sunday mornings to cut
down
the cedars around the shore, I'd sometimes hear the slow
spondees
of his work, he's gone,
where Milton Norway came up behind me while I was 
fishing and
stood awhile before I knew he was there, he's the one who
put the
cedar shingles on the house, some have curled or split, a 
few have
blown off, he's gone,
where Gus Newland logged in the cold snap of '58, the only
man will-
ing to go into those woods that never got warmer than ten
below,
he's gone,
pond where two wards of the state wandered on Halloween, 
the Na-
tional Guard searched for them in November, in vain, the 
next fall a 
hunter found their skeletons huddled together, in vain, 
they're 
gone,
pond where an old fisherman in a rowboat sits, drowning
hooked
worms, when he goes he's replaced and is never gone,

and when Fergus
saw the pond for the first time
in the clear evening, saw its oldness down there
in its old place in the valley, he became heavier suddenly
in his bones
the way fledglings do just before they fly,
and the soft pine cracked .
.
.
I would not have heard his cry if my electric saw had been working, its carbide teeth speeding through the bland spruce of our time, or burning black arcs into some scavenged hemlock plank, like dark circles under eyes when the brain thinks too close to the skin, but I was sawing by hand and I heard that cry as though he were attacked; we ran out, when we bent over him he said, "Galway, In¨¦s, I saw a pond!" His face went gray, his eyes fluttered close a frightening moment .
.
.
Yes - a pond that lets off its mist on clear afternoons of August, in that valley to which many have come, for their reasons, from which many have gone, a few for their reasons, most not, where even now and old fisherman only the pinetops can see sits in the dry gray wood of his rowboat, waiting for pickerel.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

The Bear

1
In late winter 
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow 
and bend close and see it is lung-colored 
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
2 I take a wolf's rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears.
And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth.
And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice I lie out dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
3 On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise and go on running.
4 On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind.
I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died.
I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep.
5 And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan.
6 Until one day I totter and fall -- fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance.
And I lie still.
7 I awaken I think.
Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue.
And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out, the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived? from Body Rags, Galway Kinnell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Little Sleeps-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight

1

You scream, waking from a nightmare.
When I sleepwalk into your room, and pick you up, and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me hard, as if clinging could save us.
I think you think I will never die, I think I exude to you the permanence of smoke or stars, even as my broken arms heal themselves around you.
2 I have heard you tell the sun, don't go down, I have stood by as you told the flower, don't grow old, don't die.
Little Maud, I would blow the flame out of your silver cup, I would suck the rot from your fingernail, I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light, I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones, I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body, I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood, I would let nothing of you go, ever, until washerwomen feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands, and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades, and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague, and iron twists weapons toward the true north, and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress, and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men, and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the dark, O corpse-to-be .
.
.
And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry, this the nightmare you wake screaming from: being forever in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.
3 In a restaurant once, everyone quietly eating, you clambered up on my lap: to all the mouthfuls rising toward all the mouths, at the top of your voice you cried your one word, caca! caca! caca! and each spoonful stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering steam.
Yes, you cling because I, like you, only sooner than you, will go down the path of vanished alphabets, the roadlessness to the other side of the darkness, your arms like the shoes left behind, like the adjectives in the halting speech of old men, which once could call up the lost nouns.
4 And you yourself, some impossible Tuesday in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out among the black stones of the field, in the rain, and the stones saying over their one word, ci-g?t, ci-g?t, ci-g?t, and the raindrops hitting you on the fontanel over and over, and you standing there unable to let them in.
5 If one day it happens you find yourself with someone you love in a caf¨¦ at one end of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar where white wine stands in upward opening glasses, and if you commit then, as we did, the error of thinking, one day all this will only be memory, learn, as you stand at this end of the bridge which arcs, from love, you think, into enduring love, learn to reach deeper into the sorrows to come ¨C to touch the almost imaginary bones under the face, to hear under the laughter the wind crying across the black stones.
Kiss the mouth which tells you, here, here is the world.
This mouth.
This laughter.
These temple bones.
The still undanced cadence of vanishing.
6 In the light the moon sends back, I can see in your eyes the hand that waved once in my father's eyes, a tiny kite wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look: and the angel of all mortal things lets go the string.
7 Back you go, into your crib.
The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head, in sleep.
Already in your dreams the hours begin to sing.
Little sleep's-head sprouting hair in the moonlight, when I come back we will go out together, we will walk out together among the ten thousand things, each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages of dying is love.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Wait

 Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours.
Haven't they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands.
And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait.
Don't go too early.
You're tired.
But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

 For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music 
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper 
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing 
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run - as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small 
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder 
about the mental capacity of baseball players - 
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other and smile and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body - this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, this blessing love gives again into our arms.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

The Cellist

 At intermission I find her backstage
still practicing the piece coming up next.
She calls it the "solo in high dreary.
" Her bow niggles at the string like a hand stroking skin it never wanted to touch.
Probably under her scorn she is sick that she can't do better by it.
As I am, at the dreary in me, such as the disparity between all the tenderness I've received and the amount I've given, and the way I used to shrug off the imbalance simply as how things are, as if the male were constituted like those coffeemakers that produce less black bitter than the quantity of sweet clear you poured in--forgetting about how much I spilled through unsteady walking, and that lot I threw on the ground in suspicion, and for fear I wasn't worthy, and all I poured out for reasons I don't understand yet.
"Break a leg!" somebody tells her.
Back in my seat, I can see she is nervous when she comes out; her hand shakes as she re-dog-ears the top corners of the big pages that look about to flop over on their own.
Now she raises the bow--its flat bundle of hair harvested from the rear ends of horses--like a whetted scimitar she is about to draw across a throat, and attacks.
In a back alley a cat opens her pink-ceilinged mouth, gets netted in full yowl, clubbed, bagged, bicycled off, haggled open, gutted, the gut squeezed down to its highest pitch, washed, sliced into cello strings, which bring an ancient screaming into this duet of hair and gut.
Now she is flying--tossing back the goblets of Saint-Amour standing empty, half-empty, or full on the tablecloth- like sheet music.
Her knees tighten and loosen around the big-hipped creature wailing and groaning between them as if in elemental amplexus.
The music seems to rise from the crater left when heaven was torn up and taken off the earth; more likely it comes up through her priest's dress, up from that clump of hair which by now may be so wet with its waters, like the waters the fishes multiplied in at Galilee, that each wick draws a portion all the way out to its tip and fattens a droplet on the bush of half notes now glittering in that dark.
At last she lifts off the bow and sits back.
Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat screaming at night and the teary radiance of one who gives everything no matter what has been given.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Saint Francis And The Sow

The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don't flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; 
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; 
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch 
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow 
began remembering all down her thick length, 
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, 
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine 
down through the great broken heart 
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering 
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath 
them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Two Seasons

1 
The stars were wild that summer evening 
As on the low lake shore stood you and I 
And every time I caught your flashing eye 
Or heard your voice discourse on anything 
It seemed a star went burning down the sky.
I looked into your heart that dying summer And found your silent woman's heart grown wild Whereupon you turned to me and smiled Saying you felt afraid but that you were Weary of being mute and undefiled 2 I spoke to you that last winter morning Watching the wind smoke snow across the ice Told of how the beauty of your spirit, flesh, And smile had made day break at night and spring Burst beauty in the wasting winter's place.
You did not answer when I spoke, but stood As if that wistful part of you, your sorrow, Were blown about in fitful winds below; Your eyes replied your worn heart wished it could Again be white and silent as the snow.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

Poem Of Night

 1

I move my hand over 
slopes, falls, lumps of sight,
Lashes barely able to be touched,
Lips that give way so easily
it's a shock to feel underneath them

The bones smile.
Muffled a little, barely cloaked, Zygoma, maxillary, turbinate.
2 I put my hand On the side of your face, You lean your head a little Into my hand--and so, I know you're a dormouse Taken up in winter sleep, A lonely, stunned weight.
3 A cheekbone, A curved piece of brow, A pale eyelid Float in the dark, And now I make out An eye, dark, Wormed with far-off, unaccountable lights.
4 Hardly touching, I hold What I can only think of As some deepest of memories in my arms, Not mine, but as if the life in me Were slowly remembering what it is.
You lie here now in your physicalness, This beautiful degree of reality.
5 And now the day, raft that breaks up, comes on.
I think of a few bones Floating on a river at night, The starlight blowing in a place on the water, The river leaning like a wave towards the emptiness.
Written by Galway Kinnell | Create an image from this poem

How Could You Not

 -- for Jane kenyon


It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters; small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go to the open door and look across at New Hampshire and see that there, too, the sun is bright and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon; and I think: How could it not have been today? In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly, as if in the past, to those who once sat in the steel seat of the old mowing machine, cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper, and drew the cutter bars little reciprocating triangles through the grass to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning and found yourself grown completely tired of the successes and failures of medicine, of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly now and then by hope that had that leaden taste? Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it and see that, now, it was not wrong to die and that, on dying, you would leave your beloved in a day like paradise? Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little? How could you not already have felt blessed for good, having these last days spoken your whole heart to him, who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence he would not feel a single word was missing? How could you not have slipped into a spell, in full daylight, as he lay next to you, with his arms around you, as they have been, it must have seemed, all your life? How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek, which presses itself to yours from now on? How could you not rise and go, with all that light at the window, those arms around you, and the sound, coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine plane in the distance that no one else hears?