Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

Civil Rights Movement

Kinnell was involved with the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, when “Another Night in the Ruins” was first written and published. The civil rights movement lasted from approximately the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s and was characterized by protest, civil disobedience, litigation, and other forms of social unrest that pushed for people to have equal standing under the law regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. At this time, throughout the United States, blacks and whites were segregated in many schools, jobs, and businesses. Although black people were emancipated from slavery following the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, many were so impoverished and still ill-regarded by white people that they were systematically treated as second-class citizens. In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This crucial decision had a huge impact because many school districts across the country were not integrated. When Little Rock, Arkansas was pressed to integrate in 1957, the governor, Orval Faubus, called in the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering a white school that they had sued for the right to attend. President Eisenhower intervened by dismissing the National Guard and bringing in U.S. Army soldiers to escort these nine black students to and from school and between classes.

Events escalated quickly after this Supreme Court ruling as high emotions erupted into action and reaction. A young black teenager, Emmett Till, was beaten and shot to death in Mississippi in August 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passenger in December 1955, leading to a two-week bus boycott and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Following the successful Montgomery bus boycott, many civil rights protestors adhered to the strategy of non-violent protest. Sit-ins were frequent in the 1960s. Black people sat at lunch counters, in museums, in libraries, and other segregated public places, and when they were forcibly removed and arrested, they brought public attention to their cause. Many sit-in protestors asked judges for jail and...

(The entire section is 969 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)


Imagery is a literary device that uses information drawn from the five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing) to create a picture in order to convey meaning. Kinnell anchors this poem with images. Rather than leave the night to a mere absence of light, he colors it and gives it life: “haze darkening on the hills,” “lit up / by lightning bolts.”

Flight is another reoccurring image. In the first section the narrator describes a bird flying at dusk, and then in the second section, he is in an airplane over the ocean. Wings and feathers are mentioned at the end of the fourth section and a rooster is the central image of the sixth section (although roosters are not necessarily known for flight). Flight and birds come together in the seventh, section where the narrator describes a bird flying out of its own ashes and then realizes that for man to go “up in flames,” he must become one with the fire.

Kinnell uses some images in a more abstract way. “Purple / of the eternal” seems to refer to the dusky color of the sky at the beginning of night, when the last rays of the sun are dying on the horizon, leaving behind dark, richly colored hues. Similarly, “Adoring / only the instant” may describe the focus of the bird flying past, which appreciates the beauty of the brief moment of dusk before night arrives. This phrase may also refer to the narrator’s own feelings as he looks out on this scene, caught up in the fleeting beauty. Another...

(The entire section is 619 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Balbo, Ned, Review of A New Selected Poems, in Antioch Review, Vol. 59, No. 1, Winter 2001, p. 121.

Beaver, Harold, “Refuge in the Library, on the Farm and in Memories,” in New York Times, March 2, 1986, p. BR14.

Bell, De Witt, “Wonders of the Inner Eye,” in New York Times, July 5, 1964, p. BR4.

Dickstein, Morris, “Intact and Triumphant,” in New York Times, September 19, 1982, p. 33.

Goldman, Michael, “Joyful in the Dark,” in New York Times, February 18, 1968, p. 12.

Kakutani, Michiko, “Mortality and Love,” in New York Times, November 2, 1985, p. 15.


(The entire section is 396 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1960s: The U.S. military is involved in the Second Indochina War, known to Americans as the Vietnam War. Many Americans protest U.S. military involvement in the conflict and oppose mandatory military service (known as conscription or the draft). Young men are drafted right out of high school; some go to great lengths to avoid being sent to Vietnam, including fleeing to Canada, enrolling in college, or claiming conscientious objector status.

Today: The U.S. military has been all-volunteer since 1973, although there is an attempt in 2003 to pass legislation reinstating the draft. The United States is involved in a long, drawn-out war in Iraq, which starts as a mission to recover weapons of mass destruction and overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein but dissolves into a debilitating civil war. No weapons of mass destruction are found, but Hussein is executed in 2006. As in the Vietnam War, the conflict has no easy solution that is acceptable to the United States, but many Americans are clamoring for U.S. troops to withdraw and return home.


1960s: The civil rights movement in the United States is at its peak and centered on equalizing the rights of people regardless of race. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 protestors gather in Washington, D.C., to take part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his famous “I Have a...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

• Creativity is a central focus for Kinnell in “Another Night in the Ruins.” Write a poem in at least three sections that explores your ideas about creativity. As a class, have a poetry slam during which class members read their poems aloud.

• Kinnell is a renowned New England poet. In small groups, select poems by other New England poets and stage a dramatic presentation of these poems complete with costumes, props, and interpretive acting. Write a couple of paragraphs explaining why you selected these pieces and submit these to your teacher.

• What images stand out in your mind when you read “Another Night in the Ruins”? Write a short story or play whose action is based on what you see happening in Kinnell’s poem.

• Two of the major subjects in Kinnell’s poem are spirituality and creativity. Write an essay that examines the link between spirituality and creativity. Trade essays with another student. Do you agree or disagree with what your classmate wrote? Discuss your opinions and reasons in small groups.

• Select another poem by Galway Kinnell and read it. Create a visual interpretation of that poem using whatever medium you prefer: paint, collage, drawing, sculpture, or other media. Write a short paragraph explaining your piece and put your work on display along with the paragraph you wrote and a copy of the poem you are interpreting. How is this poem different from and how is it the same as...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

• An audio recording of “Another Night in the Ruins” is available at http://archive.salon.com/audio/the_paris_review/2001/04/30/lunch_three/ from the online magazine Salon. The reading, which lasts nearly eight minutes, was recorded in April 2001 as part of Salon’s celebration of National Poetry Month and also includes the poems “The Milk Bottle” and “The Frog Pond.”

Galway Kinnell is a compact disc that captures Kinnell’s 1980 reading from his collection Mortal Acts, Mortal Words. The CD is 58 minutes long and includes an introduction by Allen Planz. It can be ordered at http://www.poets.org/ from the Academy of American Poets store.

• An audio recording of Kinnell’s famous poem “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” is available at http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15927 which is the website of the Academy of American Poets. The recording was made on March 18, 1980, at the Guggenheim Museum.

• Video of Kinnell reading “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” is available at Bill Moyer’s Fooling with Words series website, http://www.wnet.org/foolingwithwords/main_video.html which is a multi-poet project produced on PBS. This video was recorded at the 1998 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and aired on PBS on September 26, 1999. A videocassette of the series is available at http://www.films.com.

Galway Kinnell is a compact disc...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

Leaves of Grass (1855) is Walt Whitman’s major work. Whitman continuously revised and republished this book until his death in 1895. Whitman, along with Emily Dickinson, is considered by scholars to be one of the parent-figures of the American poetic traditions. Kinnell regarded Whitman as one of his major influences.

• Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares (1971) is a sequence of ten related poems, which Kinnell was inspired to write after his experiences in support of the civil rights movement (including being arrested) and protesting the Vietnam War.

Judevine (1991), by David Budbill, is a collection of poetry centered on the characters that inhabit the fictional rural town...

(The entire section is 246 words.)