Friday, September 3, 2010

a gift from stanley

Hard to think of a poem that resonates more deeply with me than Stanley Kunitz's "The Layers" - well, at least for today!  :-)  He captures with such ease some of the universal emotions with which we must all contend as we navigate life's path.  He articulates feelings that are too easily aborted, and leaves us knowing we must walk on with dignity, courage and hope. 

This multi-layered piece of digital art, manipulated with a painting of mine as the base, reflects how I feel today as I read "The Layers".

(bz painting manipulated with textures and colours in PSE 8)


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


  1. Thank you for that poem Bonnie - I had never read it before - it is beautiful. Also the picture goes so well with it.

  2. Oh how I love this poem, Bonnie. You could re-post it every day for a year, paired with one of your new images, and I would be content.

    The poem resonates especially with me today because I have just done a posting on "The Four Quartets," by Eliot. This poem, too, speaks to the various steps and missteps along our journey.

    While I usually focus upon the parts of Kunitz's poem that deal with change and living in the layers during the meantime, I find myself increasingly drawn to the place where the narrator looks behind to see "the milestones dwindling toward the horizon and the slow fires trailing from the abandoned camp-sties, over which scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings." Is this the onset of nostalgia? I don't know.

  3. Weaver (Pat): Thank you. I'm glad it speaks to you too.

  4. George: It is somehow a life-enhancing read isn't it? I am attracted, as well, to those parts of his work and would suggest it could have more to do with reconciliation than nostalgia ... Nostalgia is certainly there for us all as we glance back at what was, but we are also attracted to the place where our work lies and the work is to reconcile ourselves to what has been, what is and what is still available to us.

    Erikson named this work of reconciliation as the developmental challenge/task of integrity vs. despair. Integrity there being the act of pulling the meaning from our life and weaving it into a fabric with which we can content ourselves ... and failing to do so we can fall into 'disgust and despair' (Erikson's words).

    Strikes me that you are weaving a rich and beautiful fabric from the strands of your life. That is why I enjoy your blog so much - where I am now headed to enjoy the sacred serenade of The Four Quartets.

  5. How beautifully you represented this poem. So lovely.

  6. a nimbus-clouded voice --- great sound image.

  7. Thanks so much, Bonnie, for your response to my comments, and I think you are right on target. I never look back with despair or regret. I look back, much as I did on the highest peak of my trek across England, to survey where I have been — to see how every step has led to the present. My eyes are never fixed upon separation; they are fixed upon integration.

  8. brilliant all around bonnie. steven

  9. intriguing gives ones mind to in the layers...i like the shot as well bonnie...


    I could read the poem a thousand times and be moved differently each time. And your image of layers are ominous and secretive and yet very vulnerable. I Love this whole feel here., wow
    thanks for ALL you do
    Love Gail
    peace and hope.....

  11. A very thought provoking poem - your photo just meshes beautifully with it.


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