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By Stanley Kunitz

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.


Stanley Kunitz, "The Layers" from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

  • Living
  • Relationships

Poet Bio

Stanley Kunitz
Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and received a BA and MA from Harvard. His first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, was published in 1930, but it was not until the 1950s, when he received the Pulitzer Prize, that he gained widespread recognition. His poetry gradually evolved, from the very formal, heavily metered, esoteric poetry of his early years, to the conversational, free verse, “transparent” poems of his later years.

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