When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone Summary

Galway Kinnell

When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone

Galway Kinnell has been an active poetic force for more than thirty years. His early collections stressed more rigid poetic forms, but through the years Kinnell has freed himself from the necessity of these forms at all costs and has let his subject matter dictate the form employed more directly. In some circles; he has been criticized for abandoning the formal voice, but Kinnell has grown into the major poet that he is today by listening to his own internal voice and following it wherever it should lead. His latest collection, WHEN ONE HAS LIVED A LONG TIME ALONE, includes both structured and free-form verse, and the two cohabit nicely. The title piece, which makes up the fourth and last part of the collection, is a sequence of eleven 13-line poems; each poem begins and ends by using the title of the larger poem. The repetition adds power and authority. Kinnell exhibits great restraint in the poem, and the results are remarkably poignant.

WHEN ONE HAS LIVED A LONG TIME ALONE, though, is not without its humor. Humor has not always been Kinnell’s strongest suit, but he has become very comfortable with its use. The poem “Oatmeal” can be said to employ a sense of the ridiculous and succeeds marvelously. There are times in the collection when Kinnell’s choice of line does not rise above second-rate, but the overall affect of the majority of poems borders on the dazzling. Kinnell does not shy away from powerful topics. He speaks to the human condition. “Last Gods” is a bold poem that speaks to the power of human sexuality. There are other poems that relate how man must labor daily, whether on a farm or in a factory. Kinnell also portrays man’s relationship to other living creatures. WHEN ONE HAS LIVED A LONG TIME ALONE has the mark of a major poet on it. Kinnell can be forgiven for his failures; when he succeeds, he succeeds as few contemporary poets have.