So poet Galway Kinnell has died, at 87. The kind of man you think will never die — because why would he? He had long reached a pinnacle, a loftiness and grace. Though I always suspected he might be ‘difficult’ — with all that charm, all that handsome ruggedness of mind and body — I hoped, too, that he might be the spell upon trembling waves on the river, the master of the river breezes. Who could not be drawn to a man who wrote a book of poems called When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone let alone The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World.
We met at the Frost Place one summer, in New Hampshire. We wrote a few notes afterwards, about a larger poem he was writing on the kiss. I thought I might have something to add to it. But “my kiss,” I said, is “the angry kiss.” The angry kiss,” he repeated, unsure, and then, optimistically, “so, if you can do it: the sooner the better.”
I did send it to him, finally, my words on what it felt to kiss a person when one was angry at that person. “But this is your poem now,” he told me; “I cannot usurp it.”
From The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ…
The stars were wild that summer evening
As on the low lake shore stood you and I
and every time I caught your flashing eye
Or heard your voice discourse on anything
It seemed a star went burning down the sky.
I looked into your heart that dying summer
As I found your silent woman’s heart grown wild
Whereupon you turned to me and smiled,
Saying you felt afraid but that you were
Weary of being mute and undefiled.
RIP February 1, 1927, – October 28, 2014
University of Rochester