Live in the Layers

This is a poem by Stanley Kunitz that I can just read over and over. Some find it depressing but I find it to be inspirational and life affirming. To me it says live in the moment and stay true to yourself. Here you go. 

The Layers

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 camp-sites,

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,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever 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.

Stanley Kunitz, “The Layers” from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Live in the Layers

  1. I find this inspirational, as well. To me, it means the undying will to go on, in spite of life’s losses and disappointments. I love this line, “with my will intact to go – wherever I need to go – and every stone on the road –
    precious to me.” I think the stones represent the milestones he referred to earlier, and each one is precious because they were a part of his transformation – which is a constant state of being for him…and really should be for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice insight in regards to the stones. I never thought of them before as tying back to the milestones but I think you are right. I love all aspects of the poem but my favorite line has always been: “though some principle of being abides from which I struggle not to stray.” There is a core inside us that has always been there and our job is to seek it out, but to stay true to that core can be a struggle! Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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