English Grade 11

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The Layers


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.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
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.

Stanley Kunitz

I need help intepreting when it says, "In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roadmed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me"'Live in the layers, not on the litter.'"

  • English Grade 11 -

    When life is at its worst, don't dwell on the bad stuff; live in the period of "change", "rest"... between the sections of your life. If you just sit in the wreckage, then you will just continue to feel sorry for yourself and forget that there are new ideas and adventures.

  • English Grade 11 -

    I'm not sure anyone under the age of 50 or 60 would really understand this poem very well! Yes, I'm "dating" myself, I know, but that's the way it is! I know I would not have read and understood this particular poem the same way when I was 35 or 25 or 15!

    The different layers of one's life -- I take that to refer to the different parts of our lives. My life up to now consists of these layers:
    *childhood
    *adolescence (jr high and high school)
    *college
    *first marriage and two children
    *divorce and pain and fear
    *new job and major move with two school-age children
    *remarriage; mistake
    *divorce; finish raising kids alone
    *teaching life in a high school (covering remarriage and divorce periods)
    *teaching life continues, happier and better without the "drag" of a bad marriage
    *retirement, but continuing part-time teaching at a college
    *complete retirement; move to different state
    *deep and wonderful involvement in daughter's and grandchildren's lives

    I imagine the "litter" refers to various awful things that happen at different times, even during seemingly good times. I'm not sure, though.

    What are your "layers" so far? You have to see this poem by looking through your own layers, not someone else's. What people/events make up the "litter" in your own life? What do you see?

  • English Grade 11 -

    okay thank you, and yes i find it difficult to understand because i am only 16

  • English Grade 11 -

    how to set up a outline on a short story

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