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


Amanda said...

I have never considered that. I wonder if it makes a difference, when you can't go back to look at your written earlier self (due to loss of materials)? The one you hold in your memory is the only one that ever existed?

Thanks for the thought provoking idea on my Monday morning :)


BitterGrace said...

I wonder about that, too. Memory is SO slippery when there is nothing to ground it -- and, knowing that, should we just always assume that the undocumented past is imaginary? That seems unsettling!

Just recently I was talking with a friend about how wonderful it is to have someone in one's circle who documents EVERYTHING. I've never been that person, but now that I'm older I'm very grateful to the friends and family who make nuisances of themselves saving and recording stuff.