Friday, October 31, 2014


Galway Kinnell has died at his home in Sheffield, Vermont at age 87. I adored his incantatory poetry born of his Irish/Scottish heritage, his preoccupation with love and loneliness, and his “unsettling emptiness.” Although he published a dozen books and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for his “Selected Poems” which gathered his best work from 25 years, I loved best the book When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone. In this book, a reader is steeped in the sensuality, loneliness, and longing of one separated from the beloved but still deeply connected to nature. This poem sequence reminds a reader of Kinnell’s other fine poems, more famous no doubt, “The Bear,” “Blackberry Eating,” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”.

I had the great pleasure of hearing Kinnell read two times, and I will never forget his ability to recite his poetry from memory, his song-making in the tradition of all bards. He cast a spell in the room, making me know I was in the presence of true genius.

The following is listed as poem #10 in his cycle poem, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone. This slim volume is one of my treasured books.

When one has lived a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog head half out of water utters
the cantillations he sang in his first spring,
and the snake lowers himself over the threshold
and creeps away among the stones, one sees
they all live to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward these other kingdoms,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.