St. Francis and the Sow

Poem for a Friday — “St. Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell

“The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   

began remembering all down her thick length,   

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”

in Americans’ Favorite Poems, ed. Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.

From the Poetry Foundation: “Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell ‘one of the true master poets of his generation.”’ Kinnell’s Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

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Poem for a Tuesday — “Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell

“On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.”

from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 35

Born in Rhode Island, Galway Kinnell studied at Princeton University and traveled to Paris with a Fulbright Fellowship. He was committed to the cause of civil rights, serving with the Congress of Racial Equality and registering voters in Louisiana, where he was arrested for his efforts. Hudson Review contributor Vernon Young described Kinnell as “a poet of the landscape, a poet of soliloquy, a poet of the city’s underside and a poet who speaks for thieves, pushcart vendors and lumberjacks with an unforced simulation of the vernacular.” His collection Selected Poems (1980) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. From 1989 to 1993, he was the Poet Laureate for the state of Vermont.

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