"I Have Walked Through Many Lives . . ."

My husband and I went to see a program at the new venue down the hill, 3 Stages in Folsom. Ensemble Galilei performed while Neal Conan read selections of poetry, Shakespeare, and other works. We enjoyed the entire program (well, not the severe lack of leg room) but what really struck me was a poem called "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz. It describes the writer's experience for me so well:

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. . .
(more here) or click the video below to hear Mr. Kunitz read his poem

Wow! I've often felt that a few of the stories I tell belong to someone else's lives, and somehow I'm privileged to glimpse them. And have the responsibility of telling them. The conclusion of the poem really captured the conflict of trying to get the stories right: the frustration coupled with optimism.

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.

Do you do "self checks", looking back on how far you've come in your writer's journey, and looking ahead to where you think you'll be? My road has had a lot more twists and turns (and sidetrips) than I expected but I can still see the Promised Land on the horizon.


Jennifer Hillier said...

When I'm feeling not-so-great (which is more often than I'd like to admit), it does help to look back on how far I come. It's so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day stuff that I often forget how much forward movement there's been in my life. My writing journey has run fairly straight, but there have been a lot of potholes along the way (and I'm sure there will be more).

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

What a wonderful poem! Thanks for sharing it. Yes, I look back often, and am so amazed to think how easy I once though the writer's journey would be. Although it's as rewarding as I knew it would be. It's interesting, too, how writing fiction makes you assess and weigh your own life experiences to get the connection between what you write and why you write. It's always an unfolding journey.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for sharing this poem. The first three lines really resonate with me.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thanks for the comments, all. What I like about this poem (especially the beginning) is that it applies equally to how I feel as a writer and a reader.

You know, those books that absolutely change your outlook on the world or influence a new opinion. And aren't those kinds of books the reason you started writing in the first place?

Tracey Neithercott said...

What a great poem. Right about now I identify with the ending: "Though I lack the art to decipher it..." During these revisions I feel like I lack the art to decipher what's already been written!

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