The Layers

Stanley Kunitz

 
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.  
 
From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

An Old Cracked Tune by Stanley Kunitz
My name is Solomon Levi
The Abduction by Stanley Kunitz
Some things I do not profess
The Portrait by Stanley Kunitz
My mother never forgave my father
The Testing-Tree by Stanley Kunitz
On my way home from school


Further Reading

Related Poems
Magdalene
by Marie Howe
Carpe Diem
A Shropshire Lad, II
by A. E. Housman
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world's a stage]
by William Shakespeare
Three Airs for the Beggar’s Opera, Air XXII
by John Gay
Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III [O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?]
by William Shakespeare
A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Song On the End of the World
by Czeslaw Milosz
Another Song [Are they shadows that we see?]
by Samuel Daniel
Anything Can Happen
by Seamus Heaney
Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Barter
by Sara Teasdale
Be Drunk
by Charles Baudelaire
Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time
Daphnis and Chloe
by Haniel Long
Days
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dreams
by Langston Hughes
Exact
by Rae Armantrout
First Fig
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I Have News for You
by Tony Hoagland
I saw a man pursuing the horizon
by Stephen Crane
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl (443)
by Emily Dickinson
If—
by Rudyard Kipling
Live Blindly and Upon the Hour
by Trumbull Stickney
My life closed twice before its close (96)
by Emily Dickinson
My life has been the poem I would have writ
by Henry David Thoreau
O Me! O Life!
by Walt Whitman
O, Gather Me the Rose
by William Ernest Henley
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
by Noah Eli Gordon
Song of Myself, III
by Walt Whitman
Song to Celia
by Ben Jonson
Thanatopsis
by William Cullen Bryant
the gate
by Tadeusz Różewicz
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
To Rosa
by Abraham Lincoln
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
by Robert Herrick
Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
by Ernest Dowson
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths
by Philip James Bailey
When I consider every thing that grows (Sonnet 15)
by William Shakespeare
You Can't Have It All
by Barbara Ras
Poems about Living
"I'm afraid of death"
by Kathleen Ossip
A Toast
by Ilya Kaminsky
Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown
Ashes of Life
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
August, 1953
by David Wojahn
bonne chance de lycée
by Buck Downs
C'est La Guerre
by Danniel Schoonebeek
Characteristics of Life
by Camille T. Dungy
Corpse Flower, Luna Moth
by Daniel Tobin
Costumes Exchanging Glances
by Mary Jo Bang
Daily Life
by Susan Wood
Difficult Body
by Mark Wunderlich
Elegy in Joy [excerpt]
by Muriel Rukeyser
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
far memory
by Lucille Clifton
First Things to Hand
by Robert Pinsky
Flowers of Rad
by Sampson Starkweather
Forth Into View, Random Warriors
by Pattiann Rogers
from Oracles for Youth
by Caroline Gilman
from Two Inch Fables
by Marilyn Chin
Frozen
by Natasha Head
How to Uproot a Tree
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
I could suffice for Him, I knew (643)
by Emily Dickinson
I Have a Rendezvous With Life
by Countee Cullen
I Know A Few Things
by Stuart Dischell
In a Landscape: IV
by John Gallaher
In Betweenness
by Pierre Joris
Insomnia
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Life
by Joe Brainard
Life is Fine
by Langston Hughes
Little Night Prayer
by Péter Kántor
Living in Numbers
by Claire Lee
Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett
Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]
by Denise Levertov
Meaning
by Carl Dennis
Meditation 29
by Philip Pain
Montparnasse
by Ernest Hemingway
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Disappearing
by Major Jackson
On Living
by Nazim Hikmet
On the Gallows Once
by Kofi Awoonor
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Past Inclemency & Present Warmth
by Eryn Green
Poem Excluding Fiction
by Noah Falck
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Primitive State [excerpt]
by Anselm Berrigan
Roar Shack
by Alice Fulton
Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky
Song for Future Books
by Joanna Fuhrman
Songs of a Girl
by Mary Carolyn Davies
Sonnet
by Bill Knott
Spent
by Mark Doty
sugar is smoking
by Jason Schneiderman
Summer in Winter in Summer
by Noah Eli Gordon
Tear It Down
by Jack Gilbert
The Clouded Morning
by Jones Very
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Old Stoic
by Emily Brontë
The Pain
by Laura Kasischke
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
This is My Life
by William Stanley Braithwaite
Thoughts
by Walt Whitman
Thrown as if Fierce & Wild
by Dean Young
Variation on a Theme
by W. S. Merwin
Virgil's Hand
by Francesc Parcerisas
What the Living Do
by Marie Howe
What Wild-Eyed Murderer
by Peter Meinke
What's Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street)
by Katrina Roberts
Where I Live
by Maxine Kumin
won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton
Yellow Beak
by Stephen Dobyns
[I'm not with my]
by Joshua Beckman