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May 17 2010

My Sacred Texts

Published by at 9:58 pm under Culture

We all have sacred texts.   For many of us, they come from Holy Books.  But not for all of us. A sacred text, for me, is something someone said or wrote that contains something so profoundly true that I return to it again and again for guidance and inspiration.

The poem that follows is one of my sacred texts.  It  was written by the poet, Stanley Kunitz, when he was 92.  That’s important. He ends the poem saying that “the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written.”

At midlife we tend to underestimate the richness of life that is to come.  It’s important, I think, to look to those who’ve lived well and long.

Also, after the poem are comments. It’s advice Kunitz has repeated to others and often. In this quote he is talking to Bill Moyers.

The opening sentence is profoundly important to me and wisdom I have drawn upon often when talking to people who are at midlife and trying to create, or re-create, or  invigorate, their intimate life. He says, “The first task of the poet is to create the person who writes the poems. ”  Similarly, the first task of the person who wishes to create a beautiful relationship is to create the person, who will be a version of their authentic self,  who will be showing up for that relationship.

Enough said for now:

The Layers

by 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 campsites

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, bitter stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn, exalting somewhat,

with my will intact to go where 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.

Commentary by Kunitz

You have to not care whether there is an audience. The first task of the poet is to create the person who will write those poems. What you try to do with your life is transform it. And in poetry, the transformation of the life means that what you are concerned with is making a legend out of your life and one’s whole, all the years one spends in writing poems, are years in which you spend constructing that legend about yourself which is not confession and which is not autobiography. And if you create that legend about yourself which is meaningful both to yourself and to others, people will want to read what you have to say because we are hungry for those secret truths about experience which no one else gives us except through the medium of art.

There is a constellation of images that are uniquely yours and there is a constant interplay between those key images that are at the center of your very being. If you never discover them the chances are that you may write interesting lovely but essentially superficial poems in relation to the deepest part of yourself which remains to be explored. The deeper you move the wilder the images are.

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One Response to “My Sacred Texts”

  1. jay zon 18 May 2010 at 1:48 pm

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