This is a Valentine’s Day poem for the elderly. No, it’s Valentine’s Day for everyone. Yes, it is the middle of winter here, and yes, the poem takes place in a garden in summer. But love has no season, does it? Or, as Kunitz says in the poem, love is only a season.
Kunitz, Pulitzer Prize winner and our American Poet Laureate at the age of 95, is an encouraging example of a poet who not only continued to write in his later years, but also wrote some of the best poems in history. era.
This poem remembers and talks about remembering. It begins with a line recalled from an earlier poem when he was madly in love with the woman he is talking to, the woman who has become his wife. When he writes this poem, it is the end of his life. It is night, in the whistling wind and rain. Summer comes late, her heart is late, her youthful song has flown like the wind.
In the afternoon he was out staking out the garden. The sky looked threatening, so he knew he had better get ready. He was listening to the crickets, which reminds him of the crickets of his childhood. How can such a strong and brave sound come from such a small thing?
I thought of his choice of the word “brave”, of our own bravery to continue our work (or our love, our marriages) after the first hot season of passionate driving. What was driving that previous engine? What motivates the cricket trill? Desire, the speaker calls it. He says it three times. How powerful! But this kind of desire comes to us in a single season of our life.
But it wouldn’t be a valentine unless the poem continued from there. We return in the poem to the wind, the willow flapping against the window. The speaker is alone. He’s been alone for a long time, it seems. The woman he addresses in the poem is gone.
I think no more words of love were ever written than the last three lines of this poem – the longing for the touch of one who is gone and the recognition that his sense of himself has become so intertwined to their relationship that he’s not I don’t know who he is now without her. This, by the way, is the last poem he ever published.
Kunitz said, “In my later poems, I learned to depend on a simplicity that seems almost unpoetic on the surface, but has reverberations within that keep it intense and alive. … I think as a young poet I was looking for what Keats called ‘beautiful excess’, but as an old poet I am looking for simplicity and rigor and a world of compassion.
“In youth, poems come to you out of the blue,” Kunitz said in a New York Times article. “They are delivered to your doorstep like the morning news. But at that age,” he added, “you have to dig in.”
I’m not surprised he used the word “dig”. His garden always called him.
The last line of his biography on the back flap of his Collected Poems reads: “Kunitz and his wife, artist Elise Asher, live in New York City and Provincetown, where he cultivates a famous seaside garden. “
“There’s a plan,” writes Nell Boeschenstein in a Literary Hub article, “a close-up of her long, slender fingers clasped behind her back, their tips brown and rough and wrinkled and covered in dirt, that’s the very definition of what it is means to be alive on earth.
“When Kunitz and Asher bought the cabin in 1962,” Boeschenstein continues, “the yard was a dune. He built three terraces to hold the sand and hauled seaweed from the beach which, combined with compost and peat moss, enriched the soil. He transformed the driest land into the most fertile. In 2004, a few years before his death, the garden had 69 species, including three 20-foot-tall conical Alberta spruce trees and a juniper.
I would call it a grounded Valentine too.
Fleda Brown of Traverse City is a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware and a former Delaware Poet Laureate. For more of his work, go to www.fledabrown.com. To subscribe to her bi-monthly Wobbly Bicycle blog, contact her on her site.