Passing Through

By Stanley Kunitz 1905–2006 Stanley Kunitz

—on my seventy-ninth birthday

Nobody in the widow’s household   
ever celebrated anniversaries.   
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.   
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke   
in a fire at City Hall that gutted   
the Department of Vital Statistics.   
If it weren’t for a census report   
of a five-year-old White Male   
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester   
I’d have no documentary proof   
that I exist. You are the first,   
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.

Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you   
up the wall, as though it signified   
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much   
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:   
gradually I’m changing to a word.   
Whatever you choose to claim   
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

Stanley Kunitz, “Passing Through” 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)

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Poet Stanley Kunitz 1905–2006

Subjects Marriage & Companionship, Growing Old, Birth & Birthdays, Living, Youth

Occasions Birthdays, Gratitude & Apologies

 Stanley  Kunitz

Biography

Stanley Kunitz became the tenth Poet Laureate of the United States in the autumn of 2000. Kunitz was ninety-five years old at the time, still actively publishing and promoting poetry to new generations of readers. In the New York Times Book Review, Robert Campbell noted that Kunitz's selection as poet laureate—the highest literary honor in America—"affirms his stature as perhaps the most distinguished living American poet." . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Marriage & Companionship, Growing Old, Birth & Birthdays, Living, Youth

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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