Posts Tagged ‘Galway Kinnell’

Three great Irish poets are W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, and Galway Kinnell. I’ve posted poems by all of these men in times past — I love their lyricism and their vivacity! (~ even when things are sad or death comes — that is one of the strengths of the Irish — to be alive, lyrically and musically, no matter what). Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, friends.

“Love Song” by W.B. Yeats

My love, we will go, we will go, I and you,
And away in the woods we will scatter the dew;
And the salmon behold, and the ousel too,
My love, we will hear, I and you, we will hear,
The calling afar of the doe and the deer.
And the bird in the branches will cry for us clear,
And the cuckoo unseen in his festival mood;
And death, oh my fair one, will never come near
In the bosom afar of the fragrant wood.

“Personal Helicon” by Seamus Heaney
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

“How Could You Not” by Galway Kinnell
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?

Postscript: To hear Galway Kinnell read a wonderful poem, click: Oatmeal.

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“Think of the wren and how little flesh is needed to make a song.” – Galway Kinnell

Yesterday, I found a new bookstore here in Wheaton. I don’t know how old it is, actually, but it was new to me. Naturally, I found it irresistible. It had quite a fine selection of poetry, including one of Galway Kinnell’s volumes, Strong Is Your Hold (A Mariner Book, 2008). Tucked in the back of the book was a CD of all the poems introduced and read aloud by the poet. Last night and this morning, I listened to Galway Kinnell’s voice, and his thoughts, as he recorded them on the CD, and I felt drawn into the world of his soul.

One of Galway Kinnell’s best-known and best loved poems is “After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps,” and I’ve included that poem here on The Poetry Place in a past post. The poem does embody Kinnell’s tenderness toward his family, his hearty awareness of what is material, what is natural, and what is good in the world, and his power to make his readers and listeners resonate with his–and their own–lived experiences. His ethics of grounded awareness are everywhere evident in his poetic work.

Kinnell’s wife is a bird-watcher, and his poems “Feathering,” “Insomniac,” and “Field Notes” in this volume are about her: about ┬áhim watching her, being with her, and experiencing the world with her. I love this about Kinnell’s wife, to whom he dedicates this book, and I love the way her awareness of wild birds–of swallows building their nests, of wrens and of common loons, of books like The Human Nature of Birds–has entered into his awareness and caused him to shape words, like a potter shapes clay, into the form and appearance of birds he remembers because he remembers her.

Kinnell himself is clearly a bird-watcher, too, as his poem “Ode and Elegy” makes readers vividly aware. The poem celebrates a hawk, fiercely seizing its prey, and grieves over the jay who died in its grasp. Looking at Kinnell’s poem again now, I am reminded of a jay I spotted under a backyard bench, “lifeless, torn apart, wing unhinged from wing,” last spring. In a way, that bird’s cruel death and broken body gave life to the book that became THE BIRD-WATCHER’S DIARY ENTRIES.

Kinnell’s world looks both above the earth, to the skies and the wheeling swallows, and below it, to a vole mouldering in beetle-rich soil, and, of course, across it, to meditate on the experience of sexual desire and the reality of death–both together, never far from his consciousness in this book. A section of his poem on the fall of the Twin Towers reminds me in its rhythm of Joy Harjo’s poem “She Had Some Horses.” Kinnell’s words intersect painfully with our own memories of September 11th:

Some died while calling home to say they were OK.

Some called the telephone operators and were told to stay put.

Some died after over an hour spent learning they would die.

Some died so abruptly they may have seen death from inside it.

Some burned, their faces caught fire.

Some were asphyxiated.

Some broke windows and leaned into the sunny day.

Some were pushed out from behind by others in flames.

Some let themselves fall, begging gravity to speed them to the ground.

Some leapt hand in hand that their fall down the sky might happen more lightly.

I know many poets, musicians, memoirists, reporters and everyday diary-keepers have written about that day. I wonder if, for future generations, this poem might have more power to evoke an emotional understanding of the trauma than a high school history textbook or a video documentary. I hope so. But I also know that my generation — in America and around the globe — did not understand the significance of the Battle of the Somme or D-Day or Viet Nam, nor even, I think, the Persian Gulf War or the current conflicts in the Middle East. If we did, I can’t help but believe the history of the world might be re-written in an entirely different, more life-giving, death-denying way. Is it too much to think another generation might be able to understand or emotionally enter into the experience of September 11th … if it happened before they were born?

There are other poems in Kinnell’s collection that I enjoy, and many individual words that stand out to me (“hirpled” and “glidder,” “scummaging,” “Laudate Dominum,” “self-pollarded” and “quenelles de brochet”). But the interplay and interpenetration of the written and oral forms of these poems struck me, too. The series of small changes Kinnell made to his lyrics, detectable when listening to the CD and reading the book at the same time (so that I can know clearly the poems exist in two forms, one spoken and recorded, one written and revised) caught my ear and my eye at once.

They will catch yours, too.

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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 they 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, startlingly muscled body —
this one home 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.

Galway Kinnell
Selected Poems (1983)

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