Galway Kinnell died yesterday. He was — no is, and always will be, one of my very favorite poets.
The Times ran a fine tribute to him today, and it’s worth the read if you have a minute. It concludes with what I think is a beautifully succinct assessment of what poetry is, what it means, and why it matters — Through it all, he held that it was the job of poets to bear witness. “To me,” he said, “poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”
If you’ve never read Kinnell, I urge you to pull up a poem or two today, or just borrow my favorite — “Saint Francis and the Sow”. Someone once wrote this poem out for me when I was in a deep, dark place, and the notion of reteaching a thing its loveliness — its worth and worthiness — still brings tears to my eyes.
You can read it below, or listen to him read it in his own voice here.
Saint Francis and the Sow
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.