Photo courtesy of GalwayKinnell.com
It’s Halloween, and the spirits of poets are here with all the rest.
Alas, poet Galway Kinnell has died. Born in 1927, Kinnell was winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book award for poetry. He was the Poet Laureate for the state of Vermont, and focused on themes of nature, social justice, and the subtle spiritual dimensions of life. He was a man of the people who wanted to write poems that could be read and understood “without a graduate degree in literature.”
Recently I exchanged thoughts with a friend on Stanley Kunitz’ poem, “The Layers.” We discussed how as we get older, there are so many memories and so many losses and so many people and thoughts that have gone by the wayside. It can be sad and overwhelming at times. Kunitz’ poem advises us to “live in the layers and not on the litter,” allowing us to appreciate our own histories in a respectful and heartfelt way.
My favorite poem of Kinnell’s also addresses this theme. Traveling on a familiar road, we often think, “oh, here is where….” As we get older, we think of so many things on our daily journeys, each tied to a certain space or place on the road. So many memories. Kinnell says “when the spaces along the road between here and there are all used up, that’s it.”
Maybe Kinnell’s spaces were all used up, his memory too full, it’s hard to say, what I can say though, is that I’m glad he left record of his “spaces” for us.
The Road Between Here and There – Galway Kinnell
Here I heard the snorting of hogs trying to re-enter the under earth.
Here I came into the curve too fast, on ice, touched the brake
pedal and sailed into the pasture.
Here I stopped the car and snoozed while two small children
crawled all over me.
Here I reread Moby Dick, skipping big chunks, skimming others,
in a single day, while Maud and Fergus fished.
Here I abandoned the car because of a clonk in the motor and
hitchhiked (which in those days in Vermont meant walking
the whole way with a limp) all the way to a garage where I
passed the afternoon with ex-loggers who had stopped by to
oil the joints of their artificial limbs and talk.
Here a barn burned down to the snow. “Friction,” one of the ex-
loggers said.“Friction?” “Yup, the mortgage, rubbin’ against
the insurance policy.”
Here I went eighty but was in no danger of arrest for I was blessed-
speeding, trying to get home to see my children before they
Here I brought home in the back seat two piglets who rummaged
around inside the burlap sack like pregnancy itself.
Here I heard again on the car radio a Handel concerto transcribed
for harp and lute, which Ines played to me the first time,
making me want to drive after it and hear it forever.
Here I sat on a boulder by the winter-steaming river and put my
head in my hands and considered time—which is next to
nothing, merely what vanishes, and yet can make one’s
elbows nearly pierce one’s thighs.
Here I forgot how to sing in the old way and listened to the frogs at
Here the local fortune teller took my hand and said, “what is still
possible is inspired work, faithfulness to a few, and a last
love which, being last, will be like looking up and seeing
the parachute turning into a shower of gold.”
Here is the chimney standing up by itself and falling down, which
tells you you approach the end of the road between here and
Here I arrive there.
Here I must turn around and go back and on the way back look
carefully to left and to right.
For when the spaces along the road between here and there are all
used up, that’s it.
From his book Three Books: Body Rags, Mortal Acts,Mortal
Words, The Past. First Mariner Books Edition, 2002