“Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation” by Stanley Kunitz (Favorite Poem Project)


My name is Donna Bickel. I’m a bookkeeper. I live in Larkspur,
California. When I read the poem for the first time I read the first five lines and I immediately burst into tears and because it reflected something about
myself that I had never articulated or thought
about clearly but was so deeply true. As I continued reading it got very dark and towards the end it made me laugh and I think that a poem that is true to the essence and can make you laugh is
extraordinary. I didn’t know what a hornworm was
when I first read the poem. I had to look it up and I consulted my farmer friend who immediately said, “Ooh! That ugly worm on my tomatoes.” And what I found out from him and
from reading was yes, it is a particularly ugly worm. (Bird screeching) “Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation” by Stanley Kunitz. Since that first morning When I crawled / into the world, a naked grubby thing, / and found the world unkind, / my dearest faith has been that this /
is but a trial: I shall be changed. /
In my imaginings I have already spent / my brooding winter underground, /
unfolded silky powdered wings, and climbed / into the air, free as a puff of cloud / to sail over the steaming fields, / alighting anywhere I pleased, / thrusting into deep tubular flowers. / It is not so: there may be nectar /
in those cups, but not for me. / All day, all night, I carry on my back /
embedded in my flesh, two rows /
of little white cocoons, / so neatly stacked / they look like eggs in a crate. / And I am eaten half away. / If I can gather strength enough /
I’ll try to burrow under a stone / and spin myself a purse /
in which to sleep away the cold; / though when the sun kisses the earth /
again, I know I won’t be there. / Instead, out of my chrysalis /
will break, like robbers from a tomb, / a swarm of parasitic flies, / leaving my wasted husk behind. / Sir, you with the red snippers /
in your hand, hovering over me, / casting your shadow, I greet you, / whether you come as an angel of death / or of mercy. But tell me, /
before you choose to slice me in two: / Who can understand the ways /
of the Great Worm in the Sky? / (laughing) I love that last one. The hornworm’s expectation were not necessarily all in his imagination because in nature
a hornworm is a caterpillar kind of animal that spins a cocoon and emerges quite a beautiful moth. It has always been my dream to be transformed. Always, for my entire life, since I was a child thinking that the future would be better. That I would be better in the future. I’ve pursued that in many different ways; through religion, through spiritual practice, through
therapy and I have never been transformed yet. I’m in my sixties. To recognize that in
myself and, at my age, to say that maybe not (laughs) made me weep. And… when I read this poem it reminded me of that life situation, my life situation. Poetry… this poem mister Kunitz using the voice of the hornworm um… in such a loving, accepting way allowed me to accept that part of me
that isn’t going to transform. “The Favorite Poem Project” is made possible by The Endowment for the Arts. Fostering
America’s creativity and investing in our living cultural
heritage. Additional funding has been provided by
the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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