Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Reflection on "Touch Me" by Stanley Kunitz

Image of the book from which the poem below comes from.

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.

Stanley Kunitz, "Touch Me" from Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected. Copyright © 1966, 1995 by Stanley Kunitz. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1995)
I recently subscribed to The Poetry Foundation's Poem of the Day email newsletter and got this gem in my inbox. 
"Desire, desire, desire." How those three words reflect one of my favorite poems, Meditation at Lagunitas, by Robert Hass. "Longing, we say, because desire is full /of endless distances." Hass also ends his poem with "blackberry, blackberry, blackberry." There is something in a chant of three repeating words that invokes the numinous. 
I love how the persona uses all his senses and also still admits with humility, "It is my heart that's late." There's also a lot of poignance in the only line of the poem that breaks and moves towards the right, "One season only,/ and it's done." I see that it is to emphasize the passing nature of life. It seems like forever but it is gone too quickly. 
The humility in the persona continues at the end where he makes a request. "Touch me,/ remind me who I am." It reinforces that one can't know oneself fully without having known another. How beautiful. 
So today, let me not only be aware of the sacred...let me embody it in a simple touch. One touch can bridge an endless loneliness in another. 


Nick Paccione said...

I love this poem. It's so sadly beautiful--or is it beautifully sad? "Desire, desire, desire." Life is about losing things: our hair, our enthusiasm, our direction, my father's toes, my mother's mind, our desire, our lives. It's what makes us so painfully and beautifully human. At the end of the poem, he wants her to "remind" him who he is. We'll never know if she answers him--or if she even remembers.
I heard this poem for the first time when I was driving to work. Kunitz recited it. I almost drove into a tree I was so moved.
Oh and those crickets and their mating call! Desperately trying to make their "one season" matter. Desperately singing their song of desire before it, too, flies away.
This poem is a miracle--and it's about one, too.

Justine said...

Thank you, Nick, for leaving a note. It's wonderful to hear from someone who loves poetry. That's quite rare! Truly appreciated.

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