Dec 13, 2011
Although Stanley Kunitz’s poem is technically about the end of summer, it feels to me more like late autumn or early
winter—maybe just because that’s where we are now. The poem is probably accessible enough without help or opining from me, but I do want to mention a few marvels I think it offers.
First, I like the modest personification of “the disenchanted field.” However, I’m wild about “a small worm lisped to me.” It’s not merely a talking worm, but also a worm with a minor speech peculiarity. The comic resonance of the image grows when we remember that a worm might have phallic suggestions. This is the kind of wonder that can happen in summer, can become “The song of my marrow-bones.”
But it’s no sooner said than summer images mysteriously begin to break up and suggest fall and coldness. A hawk that “broke” might have been an especially ominous predator, but a blazing silo roof definitely signals peril.
Finally, I find something special in one straightforward, simple, non-figurative, non-ironic, relentlessly honest statement: “I knew/That part of my life was over.” It has the kind of earned straightforwardness I hear in James Wright’s “I have wasted my life.”
On a certain Tuesday or Thursday, there are things we suddenly know, whether they are epiphanies, with their undertones of religion and usefulness, or simply brute knowledge. These cannot be faked or softened by the adornment of metaphor and other tricks of language and technique. Only the quick, cold stab of a dagger will do.
That in turn makes me wonder if Kunitz's last line is a bit of overkill. Opinions welcome.