Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)

On February 17, during one of worst blizzards in New York City's history, over 2000 people made their way to Lincoln Center for an evening called POEMS NOT FIT FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. On the stage of Avery Fisher Hall were some of the greatest poets in America. Among them was Stanley Kunitz. He read:

...My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
And laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, "let us be good to one another"?
The lamps go singly out; the valley sleeps;
I tend the last light shining on the farms
And keep for you the thought of love alive,
As scholars dungeoned in an ignorant age
Tended the embers of the Trojan fire.
Cities shall suffer siege and some shall fall,
But man's not taken. What the deep heart means,
Its message of the big, round, childish hand,
Its wonder, its simple lonely cry,
The bloodied envelope addressed to you,
Is history, that wide and mortal pang.

The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz , W.W. Norton & Co. 2000

Stanley Kunitz
Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905. He attended Harvard College, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1926 and a master's degree in 1927. He served in the Army in World War II, after a request for conscientious objector status was denied.

Kunitz published his first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, in 1930. Fourteen years later, he published his second book, Passport to War. His recent books include: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000); Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (1995), which won the National Book Award; Next-to-Last Things: New Poems and Essays (1985); The Poems of Stanley Kunitz, 1928-1978, which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Testing-Tree (1971); and Selected Poems, 1928-1958, which won the Pulitzer Prize. His work has been translated in numerous languages, including Russian, Dutch, Swedish, Macedonian, French, Japanese, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Stanley Kunitz

"Sometimes I feel ashamed that I've written so few poems on political themes, on the causes that agitate me," Kunitz says in "Reflections," a preface to his poems. "But then I remind myself that to choose to live as a poet in the modern superstate is in itself a political action." And in a brief lyric, "The System," he provides a timeless epigram on the villainy of the corrupt politicians in every age:

That pack of scoundrels

tumbling through the gate


as the Order of the State.

Mr. President,

In the name of humanity and common decency, the poets of “this nation of nations,” as Walt Whitman defined the country that we cherish, implore you not to launch a so-called “pre-emptive” strike against the subject people of Iraq. Have you reckoned with the consequences, the danger of inciting World War III?

When they shall paint our sockets gray
And light us like a stinking fuse,
Remember that we once could say,
Yesterday we had a world to lose.

Stanley Kunitz

In 1998 Stanley Kunitz received the Courage of Conscience Award from Peace Abbey.

In the prologue to the Peace Abbey film, Stonewalk, Kunitz asked the question:

"To whom can one pledge his allegiance except to the victims?"


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