(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Stanley Kunitz has long been an inveterate gardener. His two-thousand-square-foot plot in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is tiered, every inch filled with a hodgepodge of interesting plants that coexist happily. Kunitz’s habit became to work on his garden for at least an hour or two every day in summer. It is not surprising, then, that he produced a body of poems about gardens and nature.

In “The Snakes of September,” Kunitz writes about the snakes active in the heat of summer. He is aware of their presence, but they evade capture—not that he wishes to capture them. They hide in bushes and shrubbery, playing their own games with the gardener. The words that Kunitz uses in talking about them are active verbs: “rustling,” “outracing,” “flashed,” “pulsing.” As the poem proceeds toward September, however, when the nights are cooler, the snakes, cold-blooded, lose much of their mobility. A change is announced by Kunitz’s use of the word “torpor.” The two snakes appear through a narrow slit and are seen dangling heads down and intertwined.

The gardener now comes upon them and touches them gently, at which point “At my touch the wild/ braid of creation/ trembles.” The last lines of the poem legitimately invite deeper, post-Edenic interpretations, and the final word, “trembles,” hints at the very source of creation.

The Snakes of September Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Busa, Chris. “Stanley Kunitz: The Art of Poetry XXIX.” The Paris Review 24 (Spring, 1982): 204-246.

A Celebration for Stanley Kunitz: On His Eightieth Birthday. Riverdale-on-the-Hudson, N.Y.: Sheep Meadow Press, 1986.

Hagstrum, Jean H. “The Poetry of Stanley Kunitz: An Introductory Essay.” In Poets in Progress, edited by Edward B. Hungerford. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Hénault, Marie. Stanley Kunitz. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Kunitz, Stanley. Interview by Caroline Sutton. Publishers Weekly 228 (December 20, 1985): 67-68.

Kunitz, Stanley. “An Interview with Stanley Kunitz.” Interview by Cynthia Davis. Contemporary Literature 15 (Winter, 1974): 1-14.

Lundquist, Kent. “Stanley Kunitz.” In Encyclopedia of American Literature, edited by Steven R. Serafin. New York: Continuum Press, 1999.

Martin, Harry. “Warren and Kunitz: Poets in the American Grain.” The Washington Post Book World, September 30, 1979, 10.

Orr, Gregory. Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Ostroff, Anthony J., ed. The Contemporary Poet as Artist and Critic. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.

Shaw, Robert B. “A Book of Changes.” The New York Times Book Review, July 22, 1979, 1, 20.