October 29, 2014 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Galway Kinnell, poet, has died. He was 87.

My mother, poor woman, lies tonight
in her last bed. It's snowing, for her, in her darkness.
I swallow down the goodbyes I won't get to use,
tasteless, with wretched mouth-water;
whatever we are, she and I, we're nearly cured.

The night years ago when I walked away
from that final class of junior high school students
in Pittsburgh, the youngest of them ran
after me down the dark street. "Goodbye!" she called,
snow swirling across her face, tears falling.

Tears have kept on falling. History
has taught them its slanted understanding
of the human face. At each last embrace
the snow brings down its disintegrating curtain.
The mind shreds the present, once the past is over.

In the Derry graveyard where only her longings sleep
and armfuls of flowers go out in the drizzle
the bodies not yet risen must lie nearly forever...
"Sprouting good Irish grass," the graveskeeper blarneys,
he can't help it, "A sprig of shamrock, if they were young."

In Pittsburgh tonight, those who were young
will be less young, those who were old, more old, or more likely
no more; and the street where Syllest,
fleetest of my darlings, caught up with me
and hugged me and said goodbye, will be empty. Well,

one day the streets all over the world will be empty—
already in heaven, listen the golden cobblestones have fallen still—
everyone’s arms will be empty, everyone’s mouth, the Derry earth.
It is written in our hearts, the emptiness is all.
That is how we learned, the embrace is all.
posted by Iridic (34 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
"we shall not all sleep, But we shall be changed"

-The Book Of Nightmares

posted by clavdivs at 10:29 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.
posted by mykescipark at 10:32 AM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Every time an Irish poet dies, I think of Auden's In Memory of W.B. Yeats:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen:

posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:33 AM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:37 AM on October 29, 2014



Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
posted by aught at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry I'd never heard of him before, but I'll be looking up a lot more of his work. That poem is beautiful, and thanks.
posted by jameaterblues at 10:39 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by readery at 10:40 AM on October 29, 2014

what a stunning poem ("My mother, poor woman, lies tonight")

thanks for this

posted by thelonius at 10:42 AM on October 29, 2014

It's been a long time since I read him, but he's one of the greats. A big loss for poetry.

posted by saulgoodman at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2014

When one has lived a long time alone,
one likes alike the pig, who brooks no deferment
of gratification, and the porcupine, or thorned pig,
who enters the cellar but not the house itself
because of eating down the cellar stairs on the way up,
and ones likes the worm, who, by bunching herself together,
and expanding works her way through the ground,
no less than the butterfly, who totters full of worry
among the day lilies as they darken,
and more and more one finds one likes
any other species better than one's own,
which has gone amok, leaving one self-estranged,
when one has lived a long time alone.
posted by blucevalo at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

posted by mothershock at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2014

posted by Cash4Lead at 10:58 AM on October 29, 2014

posted by ...possums at 11:02 AM on October 29, 2014

posted by univac at 11:20 AM on October 29, 2014

I am probably one of many, many people whose life was literally saved by his poem "Wait."

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

And here is Andrew Bird's gorgeous musical version.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2014 [23 favorites]

posted by dlugoczaj at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2014

For those looking for the rest of that Andrew Bird set, it's BirdAndrew Bird Live at Mad City Live & Mercury Theater on 1998-01-01 (January 1, 1998)

It looks like Andrew Bird has played Wait a good number of times. Thanks for the song, DirtyOldTown, and for this post, Iridic.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I actually got to see Andrew Bird play that with Jason Molina once at Schuba's. That's something of a bittersweet memory, considering how we lost Molina.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:43 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bird's version of "Wait" is quite unexpectedly Tin Pan Alley-ish.
posted by kenko at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2014

I've seen him play it maybe a half dozen times, no two of them the same. The Live Music Archive does seem to show that his kinda jaunty version with Nora O'Connor singing was his standard for a while, though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2014

Okay, one more: Kinnell himself reading "Wait."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2014

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours.

I'm sobbing in my living room suddenly. Thanks for posting that, DirtyOldTown. Genuinely.
posted by dorque at 12:09 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bird's version of "Wait" is quite unexpectedly Tin Pan Alley-ish.

It was his style at the time. Bird was fronting Bowl of Fire, a sort of chamber successor to the Squirrel Nut Zippers; their sound through their first two albums was all old timey, all the time. "Wait" appears on the second, "Oh! The Grandeur," which is just a hell of a record generally.

It wasn't the beginning or end of Bird's Kinnell homages. His first solo album was called Music of Hair, and Weather Systems opens with another adaptation of a Kinnell poem called "First Song."
posted by Iridic at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by GrapeApiary at 12:55 PM on October 29, 2014

My favorite part of "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone:"

after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward the kingdom of strangers,
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.

posted by yasaman at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saint Francis and the Sow
by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
posted by jammy at 2:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

@ Godspeed, Mr. Kinnell!
posted by Vibrissae at 4:35 PM on October 29, 2014

posted by cellar door at 5:42 PM on October 29, 2014

posted by Renoroc at 6:36 PM on October 29, 2014

posted by TwoStride at 8:16 PM on October 29, 2014

posted by eustacescrubb at 6:20 AM on October 30, 2014

posted by Shoggoth at 7:05 AM on October 30, 2014

Another one to add to the list of "poets I never heard of till they died"

Wonderful stuff.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 8:45 AM on October 30, 2014

Fellow poet C. K. Williams wrote an obituary for The New Yorker about Kinnell.
posted by Kattullus at 3:23 AM on October 31, 2014

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