Pulitzer-Winning Poet Stanley Kunitz Dies
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Stanley Kunitz, 100, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet of far-ranging style and influence and who twice was U.S. poet laureate, died May 14 at his home in New York City. The cause of death was reported to be pneumonia.
In about a dozen books, Mr. Kunitz's literary approach veered over the decades from metaphysical sonnets about love and loss to stark ruminations on his father's suicide. Gradually, he learned to "strip the water out of my poems" and acknowledge the benefits of a simpler, more intense approach.
Thematically, he spoke of rebirths and questing. He was fascinated by the ongoing tussle between life and death. "The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that dialogue," he once said. "It is a rather terrifying thought that is at the root of much of my poetry."
Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was born in Worcester, Mass., on July 29, 1905. His father, a dress manufacturer whose business went bankrupt, committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid in a public park. Later, his stepfather died prematurely, from a heart attack while hanging draperies.
His mother, a Lithuanian immigrant, opened a dry-goods store to support her son and his two toddler sisters. In his poem "The Portrait," he wrote of his mother's stoic reaction to losing her first husband, Mr. Kunitz's father:
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger