The Long Boat

American poet Stanley Kunitz died on Sunday, May 14, at his home in New York City. The former United States Poet Laureate was 100 years old at the time of his death, but he had never slowed down his active literary life. He’d spent his final years delivering powerful poetry readings to wildly appreciative audiences.

Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was known for a cool and unpretentious lyrical style with a soft-spoken speculative touch.

The Long Boat
by Stanley Kunitz

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

5 Responses

  1. thatwas a fine choice to

    was a fine choice to post

    I heard an interview on NPR

    with a woman who spent an hour or so reading him his own poetry his last day

    ‘the long boat’ would have been a good choice for her too

  2. To be rocked by the
    To be rocked by the Infinite…

    What a poem.

    “endlessly drifting.
    Peace! Peace”

    That’s the way I want to go.

  3. Reminds me of this poem by
    Reminds me of this poem by Longfellow:

    As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
    Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
    Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
    And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
    Still gazing at them through the open door,
    Nor wholly reassured and comforted
    By promises of others in their stead,
    Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
    So nature deals with us, and takes away
    Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
    Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
    Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
    Being too full of sleep to understand
    How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

    – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

  4. FM 93.9I caught part of that
    FM 93.9

    I caught part of that NPR interview (which is WNYC-FM 93.9, for you commuters). The poet spoke of his method of writing, which is a subject that always interests me – how one goes about the craft of producing his art. Said he kept notes in journals, and added, pushed them as far as he could; then finally put poem onto paper. “The Long Boat” is quite excellent, but if you’ll permit me, it seems to reflect patient crafting, rather than a burst of inspiration.

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