Dec 13, 2011

"End of Summer" by Stanley Kunitz





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. 







End of Summer by Stanley Kunitz : The Poetry Foundation

13 comments:

Foto Bugil said...

hello my adam Benga I saw your blog, nice and interesting, so I decided to give comment on every post you.

thank you for showing my comment.
Please visit back

altadenahiker said...

Well certainly, I think we must let foto bugil have the last word on this. I trust him implicitly after he left a similar sentiment on twenty of my posts. Such consistency, not to mention industry, must be respected.

Plus, do we have a rebuttal, even so much as a weak argument on every or even any post, you?

Game, set and match, I say.

Brenda's Arizona said...

OK, I haven't met Foto Bugil. Sounds fine to me, 20 times isn't too many, is it?

The "the iron door of the north" says it all for me. Why an iron door? Why north? Obviously it is winter, but I find it so easily described and visualized. If it had been a screen door or a fern covered door, would we think summer or spring?

Oh, how easy it is to love poetry that paints a picture. Lovely, Banjomyn!

altadenahiker said...

Strand and Kunitz seem to be trying to prepare us for death, but in a -- I don't know -- loving way? Compassionate way? Companionable way? I find both poems perfect, sad, strong, and both give such a clear picture of the speaker. For example, I see Kunitz in a an worn wool plaid shirt.

Kunitz reminds me how much I like poetry that rhymes.

Stickup Artist said...

I find the Kunitz poem to be heartrending at its core. Sometimes a cruel wind does indeed blow and there is no other way to put it. But to wring poetry from the ashes speaks to this artist's ability to embrace painful emotions, connect at the deepest levels, and turn that pain into beautiful self-expressive art. It is not an easy task...

Banjo52 said...

Glad everyone is liking these last two. AH, rebuttal, weak argument etc.--not sure I get your point. But I agree about rhyme. I try to convince myself that the best free verse is as much of an achievement, but sometimes I feel dishonest about that.

Stickup, turning pain into beauty, rathe than, or in addition to self-pity. Yes, there's the rub.

Brenda, yes, that iron door is an attention grabber, isn't it. To me, iron clanging sounds/feels not only harsh but also cold.

altadenahiker said...

Sorry, the first comment was just having fun with your Foto Bugil.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Ooh--"The iron door of the North" is wonderful, and how it clangs open---yes, that IS winter right there.

The little worm reminds me of the worm in Labyrinth...("'ello! Don't go that way...")

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I remember receiving wise council from someone who said "always have friends that are smarter then you." It's true. They'll appreciate your attention and you'll walk away richer - and equally important, without need to compete. I feel that way about this post and how you frame the lines you find pertinent.

"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. "

I could see that painted on the wall of my living room - a refrigerator magnet - embedded in the sidewalk

Beautifully stated...or should I say poetic?

Banjo52 said...

AH, I get it. Thanks.

Hannah, can you tell us more about Labyrinth? I like the line you give here.

PA, thank you!

RuneE said...

I sat a while wondering about the line: "Admonished me the unloved year"

To me that works as kind of lead into the rest of the poem, and the rest is not very encouraging if one is looking for beauty in the latter part of life (which I think this is all about).

Paula said...

I know that I've read this poem somewhere before because I'm certain that that whimsical, lisping worm has made a previous appearance in my mind's eye. I can't say more than that, everyone else has said what needs to be said and done it better than anything I can come up with. I will add this though, my mother and I had a running joke about "...a week from some Tuesday..." so that made me smile.

Banjo52 said...

RuneE, thanks for honing in on that detail. In spite of its slightly unusual phrasing, it might be forgotten after the worm, the clanging, and some "louder" others.

Paula, damn, I thought that "some Tuesday" idea was all mine. The poem was new to me. Kunitz is one of my gaps, but I'll be checking out more of the guy.

Lovers' Lane