Thursday, October 3, 2013

"tart recompense for what was lost"

I Dreamed That I Was Old
by Stanley Kunitz

I dreamed that I was old: in stale declension   
Fallen from my prime, when company
Was mine, cat-nimbleness, and green invention,   
Before time took my leafy hours away.

My wisdom, ripe with body’s ruin, found   
Itself tart recompense for what was lost
In false exchange: since wisdom in the ground   
Has no apocalypse or pentecost.

I wept for my youth, sweet passionate young thought,
And cozy women dead that by my side   
Once lay: I wept with bitter longing, not   
Remembering how in my youth I cried.

*For the past few days I've been sorting through a mess of very old files, stuff I haven't touched in more than 20 years. It's like excavating my life, and it has been enlightening. Age looking back at youth is a cliché — one that Kunitz is toying with in his poem — but familiarity with the cliché did not prepare me for the shock of the actual experience. It is shocking to see how I have misremembered who I was, shocking to see how thoroughly I have revised the story of my life in the course of living it. Do we all hypnotize ourselves with a private fiction? Is it a gift or a loss to be shown what sort of person you truly are?

Allegory of Prudence by Titian, c.1570