Jul. 29, 2005

Touch Me

by Stanley Kunitz

FRIDAY, 29 JULY, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Touch Me" by Stanley Kunitz, from Passing Through. © W.W. Norton. Reprinted with permission.

Touch Me

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
        and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the one hundredth birthday of the poet Stanley Kunitz, born in Worcester Massachusetts (1905), who once said of his childhood, "It was not an auspicious start." His father committed suicide a few weeks before he was born. His mother refused to ever speak about it and never told him anything about his father.

The family dress manufacturing business was bankrupt when the father killed himself. His mother, however, even with three children to support, opened a dry goods shop sewing garments in the back room, and Stanley Kunitz said of his mother, "She was a woman of formidable will, staunch heart, and razor-sharp intelligence, whose only school was the sweatshops of New York."

He decided in the fourth grade that he wanted to be a poet when his teacher had the class read a poem by Robert Herrick with the lines, "Whenas in silks my Julia goes, / Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows / That liquefaction of her clothes." Young Stanley Kunitz loved that word, "liquefaction."

He went to Harvard on a scholarship, lived in the country after college, worked on a farm, and bummed around for a while. In the '50s, he moved to Greenwich Village and started hanging out with painters. He was still relatively unknown when he won the Pulitzer Prize for his third collection in 1958.

His great breakthrough as a writer, he thought, came when his mother and sisters had all died, and he said, "The disappearance of my family liberated me. It gave me a sense that I was the only survivor and if the experiences of my life ... were to be told, it was within my power to do so."

He won the National Book Award when he was 90 for his collection Passing Through.

Today is also the birthday of Alexis de Tocqueville, born in Paris (1805), the author of Democracy in America.

It's the birthday of Booth Tarkington, born in Indianapolis (1869), author of The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams.

It's the birthday of Don Marquis, the newspaper columnist, born in Walnut, Illinois (1878), who gave us Archy, the cockroach, and Mehitabel, the alley cat.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show