Stanley Kunitz

American poet (1905-2006)

Stanley Jasspon Kunitz (July 29, 1905May 14, 2006) was an American poet who served two years (1974–1976) as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a precursor to the modern Poet Laureate program), and served another year as United States Poet Laureate in 2000.

Stanley Kunitz





The Layers

  • 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 campsites
    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.
    • "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz
[Click here for video version on YouTube as read by the author ]


  • In the best painting as in authentic poetry one is aware of moral pressures exerted... choices are important, moral pressure exists to make right and wrong choices.

Quotes about Stanley Kunitz

  • I love what the poet Stanley Kunitz said about dreaming of “an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.” That pretty much sums up what I most admire in a work of literature.
  • I remember something Stanley Kunitz once told me. He said, "Poetry explores depths of thought and feeling that civilization requires for its survival."
  • Things come to me, they speak to me. Stanley Kunitz has had an enormous impact on my life. He once said that poetry is only half language, the other half is a quality of perception, a function of the imagination, a particular form of paying attention. For me, it's a stilling of the self, waiting for this language to speak to me before I utter it.
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