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Best Famous Stanley Kunitz Poems

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Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Testing-Tree


On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world’s fastest human.
2 Around the bend that tried to loop me home dawdling came natural across a nettled field riddled with rabbit-life where the bees sank sugar-wells in the trunks of the maples and a stringy old lilac more than two stories tall blazing with mildew remembered a door in the long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow: brushing the stickseed off, wading through jewelweed strangled by angel’s hair, spotting the print of the deer and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key to an umbrageous trail thickened with mosses where flickering presences gave me right of passage as I followed in the steps of straight-backed Massassoit soundlessly heel-and-toe practicing my Indian walk.
3 Past the abandoned quarry where the pale sun bobbed in the sump of the granite, past copperhead ledge, where the ferns gave foothold, I walked, deliberate, on to the clearing, with the stones in my pocket changing to oracles and my coiled ear tuned to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood int he shadow, at fifty measured paces, of the inexhaustible oak, tyrant and target, Jehovah of acorns, watchtower of the thunders, that locked King Philip’s War in its annulated core under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are I have only three throws bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon, while the air flowed saffron, I played my game for keeps-- for love, for poetry, and for eternal life-- after the trials of summer.
4 In the recurring dream my mother stands in her bridal gown under the burning lilac, with Bernard Shaw and Bertie Russell kissing her hands; the house behind her is in ruins; she is wearing an owl’s face and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway askew in the field and peer down a well where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in, staining the water yellow, why should I be blamed? Never try to explain.
That single Model A sputtering up the grade unfurled a highway behind where the tanks maneuver, revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree? Give me back my stones!

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

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.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

Father and Son

 Now in the suburbs and the falling light
I followed him, and now down sandy road
Whitter than bone-dust, through the sweet
Curdle of fields, where the plums
Dropped with their load of ripeness, one by one.
Mile after mile I followed, with skimming feet, After the secret master of my blood, Him, steeped in the odor of ponds, whose indomitable love Kept me in chains.
Strode years; stretched into bird; Raced through the sleeping country where I was young, The silence unrolling before me as I came, The night nailed like an orange to my brow.
How should I tell him my fable and the fears, How bridge the chasm in a casual tone, Saying, "The house, the stucco one you built, We lost.
Sister married and went from home, And nothing comes back, it's strange, from where she goes.
I lived on a hill that had too many rooms; Light we could make, but not enough of warmth, And when the light failed, I climbed under the hill.
The papers are delivered every day; I am alone and never shed a tear.
" At the water's edge, where the smothering ferns lifted Their arms, "Father!" I cried, "Return! You know The way.
I’ll wipe the mudstains from your clothes; No trace, I promise, will remain.
Instruct You son, whirling between two wars, In the Gemara of your gentleness, For I would be a child to those who mourn And brother to the foundlings of the field And friend of innocence and all bright eyes.
0 teach me how to work and keep me kind.
" Among the turtles and the lilies he turned to me The white ignorant hollow of his face.

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Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Abduction

 Some things I do not profess 
to understand, perhaps
not wanting to, including
whatever it was they did
with you or you with them
that timeless summer day
when you stumbled out of the wood,
distracted, with your white blouse torn
and a bloodstain on your skirt.
"Do you believe?" you asked.
Between us, through the years, we pieced enough together to make the story real: how you encountered on the path a pack of sleek, grey hounds, trailed by a dumbshow retinue in leather shrouds; and how you were led, through leafy ways, into the presence of a royal stag, flaming in his chestnut coat, who kneeled on a swale of moss before you; and how you were borne aloft in triumph through the green, streched on his rack of budding horn, till suddenly you found yourself alone in a trampled clearing.
That was a long time ago, almost another age, but even now, when I hold you in my arms, I wonder where you are.
Sometimes I wake to hear the engines of the night thrumming outside the east bay window on the lawn spreading to the rose garden.
You lie beside me in elegant repose, a hint of transport hovering on your lips, indifferent to the harsh green flares that swivel through the room, searchlights controlled by unseen hands.
Out there is a childhood country, bleached faces peering in with coals for eyes.
Our lives are spinning out from world to world; the shapes of things are shifting in the wind.
What do we know beyond the rapture and the dread?

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Science Of The Night

 I touch you in the night, whose gift was you,
My careless sprawler,
And I touch you cold, unstirring, star-bemused,
That have become the land of your self-strangeness.
What long seduction of the bone has led you Down the imploring roads I cannot take Into the arms of ghosts I never knew, Leaving my manhood on a rumpled field To guard you where you lie so deep In absent-mindedness, Caught in the calcium snows of sleep? And even should I track you to your birth Through all the cities of your mortal trial, As in my jealous thought I try to do, You would escape me--from the brink of earth Take off to where the lawless auroras run, You with your wild and metaphysic heart.
My touch is on you, who are light-years gone.
We are not souls but systems, and we move In clouds of our unknowing like great nebulae.
Our very motives swirl and have their start With father lion and with mother crab.
Dreamer, my own lost rib, Whose planetary dust is blowing Past archipelagoes of myth and light What far Magellans are you mistress of To whom you speed the pleasure of your art? As through a glass that magnifies my loss I see the lines of your spectrum shifting red, The universe expanding, thinning out, Our worlds flying, oh flying, fast apart.
From hooded powers and from abstract flight I summon you, your person and your pride.
Fall to me now from outer space, Still fastened desperately to my side; Through gulfs of streaming air Bring me the mornings of the milky ways Down to my threshold in your drowsy eyes; And by the virtue of your honeyed word Restore the liquid language of the moon, That in gold mines of secrecy you delve.
Awake! My whirling hands stay at the noon, Each cell within my body holds a heart And all my hearts in unison strike twelve.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

Master And Mistress

 As if I were composed of dust and air,
The shape confronting me upon the stair
(Athlete of shadow, lighted by a stain
On its disjunctive breast--I saw it plain--)
Moved through my middle flesh.
I turned around, Shaken and it was marching without sound Beyond the door; and when my hand was taken From my mouth to beat the standing heart, I cried My distant name, thinking myself had died.
One moment I was entered; one moment then I knew a total century of pain Between the twinkling of two thoughts.
The ghost Knocked on my ribs, demanding, "Host! Host! I am diseased with motion.
Give me bread Before I quickly go.
Shall I be fed?" Yielding, I begged of him: "Partake of me.
Whatever runneth from the artery, This body and its unfamiliar wine, Stored in whatever dark of love, are thine.
" But he denied me, saying, "Every part of thee is given, yea, thy flesh, thy heart.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

King of the River

 If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin,
nosing upstream,
slapping, thrashing,
over the rocks
till you paint them
with your belly's blood:
Finned Ego,
yard of muscle that coils,
If the knowledge were given you, but it is not given, for the membrane is clouded with self-deceptions and the iridescent image swims through a mirror that flows, you would surprise yourself in that other flesh heavy with milt, bruised, battering toward the dam that lips the orgiastic pool.
Bathe in these waters.
Increase and die.
If the power were granted you to break out of your cells, but the imagination fails and the doors of the senses close on the child within, you would dare to be changed, as you are changing now, into the shape you dread beyond the merely human.
A dry fire eats you.
Fat drips from your bones.
The flutes of your gills discolor.
You have become a ship for parasites.
The great clock of your life is slowing down, and the small clocks run wild.
For this you were born.
You have cried to the wind and heard the wind's reply: "I did not choose the way, the way chose me.
" You have tasted the fire on your tongue till it is swollen black with a prophetic joy: "Burn with me! The only music is time, the only dance is love.
" If the heart were pure enough, but it is not pure, you would admit that nothing compels you any more, nothing at all abides, but nostalgia and desire, the two-way ladder between heaven and hell.
On the threshold of the last mystery, at the brute absolute hour, you have looked into the eyes of your creature self, which are glazed with madness, and you say he is not broken but endures, limber and firm in the state of his shining, forever inheriting his salt kingdom, from which he is banished forever.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

End of Summer

 An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field Amid the stubble and the stones Amaded, while a small worm lisped to me The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue, A hawk broke from his cloudless tower, The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew That part of my life was forever over.
Already the iron door of the North Clangs open: birds,leaves,snows Order their populations forth, And a cruel wind blows.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

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.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation

 Since that first morning when I crawled
into the world, a naked grubby thing,
and found the world unkind,
my dearest faith has been that this
is but a trial: I shall be changed.
In my imaginings I have already spent my brooding winter underground, unfolded silky powdered wings, and climbed into the air, free as a puff of cloud to sail over the steaming fields, alighting anywhere I pleased, thrusting into deep tubular flowers.
It is not so: there may be nectar in those cups, but not for me.
All day, all night, I carry on my back embedded in my flesh, two rows of little white cocoons, so neatly stacked they look like eggs in a crate.
And I am eaten half away.
If I can gather strength enough I'll try to burrow under a stone and spin myself a purse in which to sleep away the cold; though when the sun kisses the earth again, I know I won't be there.
Instead, out of my chrysalis will break, like robbers from a tomb, a swarm of parasitic flies, leaving my wasted husk behind.
Sir, you with the red snippers in your hand, hovering over me, casting your shadow, I greet you, whether you come as an angel of death or of mercy.
But tell me, before you choose to slice me in two: Who can understand the ways of the Great Worm in the Sky?

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Round

 Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
So I have shut the doors of my house, so I have trudged downstairs to my cell, so I am sitting in semi-dark hunched over my desk with nothing for a view to tempt me but a bloated compost heap, steamy old stinkpile, under my window; and I pick my notebook up and I start to read aloud the still-wet words I scribbled on the blotted page: "Light splashed .
" I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Dark and the Fair

 A roaring company that festive night;
The beast of dialectic dragged his chains,
Prowling from chair to chair is the smoking light,
While the snow hissed against the windowpanes.
Our politics, our science, and our faith Were whiskey on the tongue; I, being rent By the fierce divisions of our time, cried death And death again, and my own dying meant.
Out of her secret life, the griffin-land Where ivory empires build their stage she came, Putting in mine her small impulsive hand, Five-fingered gift, and the palm not tame.
The moment clanged: beauty and terror danced Tot he wild vibration of a sister-bell, Whose unremitting stroke discountenanced The marvel that the mirrors blazed to tell.
A darker image took this fairer form Who once, in the purgatory of my pride, When innocence betrayed me in a room Of mocking elders, swept handsome to my side, Until we rose together, arm in arm, And fled together back into the world.
What brought her now, in the semblance of the warm, Out of cold spaces, damned by colder blood? That furied woman did me grievous wrong, But does it matter much, given our years? We learn, as the thread plays out, that we belong Less to what flatters us than to what scars; So, freshly turning, as the turn condones, For her I killed the propitiatory bird, Kissing her down.
Peace to her bitter bones, Who taught me the serpent's word, but yet the word.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

Single Vision

 Before I am completely shriven
I shall reject my inch of heaven.
Cancel my eyes, and, standing, sink Into my deepest self; there drink Memory down.
The banner of My blood, unfurled, will not be love, Only the pity and the pride Of it, pinned to my open side.
When I have utterly refined The composition of my mind, Shaped language of my marrow till Its forms are instant to my will, Suffered the leaf of my heart to fall Under the wind, and, stripping all The tender blanket from my bone, Rise like a skeleton in the sun, I shall have risen to disown The good mortality I won.
Drectly risen with the stain Of life upon my crested brain, Which I shall shake against my ghost To frighten him, when I am lost.
Gladly as any poison, yield My halved conscience, brightly peeled; Infect him, since we live but once, With the unused evil in my bones.
I'll shed the tear of souls, the true Sweat, Blake's intellectual dew, Before I am resigned to slip A dusty finger on my lip.

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

After The Last Dynasty

 Reading in Li Po
how "the peach blossom follows the water"
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
Chairman Mao,
naturally with the sex 
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind of Chinese guerilla war.
Thanks to your lightfoot genius no Eighth Route Army kept its lines more fluid, traveled with less baggage so nibbled the advantage.
Even with your small bad heart you made a dance of departures.
In the cold spring rains when last you failed me I had nothing left to spend but a red crayon language on the character of the enemy to break appointments, to fight us not with his strength but with his weakness, to kill us not with his health but with his sickness.
Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony, here is a new note I want to pin on your door, though I am ten years late and you are nowhere: Tell me, are you stillmistress of the valley, what trophies drift downriver, why did you keep me waiting?

Written by Stanley Kunitz |

The Quarrel

 The word I spoke in anger 
weighs less than a parsley seed, 
but a road runs through it 
that leads to my grave,
that bought-and-paid-for lot 
on a salt-sprayed hill in Truro
where the scrub pines 
overlook the bay.
Half-way I'm dead enough, strayed from my own nature and my fierce hold on life.
If I could cry, I'd cry, but I'm too old to be anybody's child.
Liebchen, with whom should I quarrel except in the hiss of love, that harsh, irregular flame?