Tag Archives: Galway Kinnell

May 17, 2011 from The Book of Nightmares


Here’s a selection from one of my favorites. “Selection” is the right term because I’m excerpting this from a book-length poem called “The Book of Nightmares,” first published in 1971, and referred to as Galway’s Kinnell’s masterpiece. Huh, I thought, as I picked it up at the 1/2-price bookstore, I thought “Wait” was Galway Kinnell’s masterpiece! Well of course I had to have it.

Here’s the thing. It’s not really about nightmares. It’s about mortality, and death itself. As such, it contains references to the Greeks and to Dante. But it is thoroughly modern, incorporating as well the intimate voice of much late-20th century American poetry, and elements of psychadelia.

The book is divided into 10 cantos, each containing 7 sections. Some of them are straightforwardly about loved ones and the passage of time, like this one, which I believe speaks to his then-young daughter.

Galway Kinnell is still churning them out, of course, dividing his time between New York and Vermont, and teaching at NYU. -ed.

from The Book of Nightmares
Canto VII § 5

If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a café at on end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking
one day all this will only be memory,

as you stand
at this edge of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come — to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world
. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

Monday’s Verse, Apr. 7, 2008

Dear Friends,

because of its surpassing beauty, this poem asks for no introduction.
Today I want to dedicate it to my dad, who turns 71, and to my friend
whose grandmother is sick. Enjoy, and don’t forget to tell your
friends you love them. ~mjl


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.

-Galway Kinnell