A Kind of Order, a Kind of Folly Summary
Perhaps feeling the pressure of having reached the biblically allotted three score and ten years of age, Kunitz felt the need to provide some organized record of his reflections about the world in which he lives. In 1975, still active in literary circles, teaching regularly, and fulfilling his duties as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, he compiled this collection of his essays, reviews, and conversations. What might have been an incoherent whole, a ragtag gathering of past writing, in this instance is a coherent and cohesive presentation of the intellectual growth of a gifted, intelligent artist. As in the collections of his poems, where Kunitz imposes a controlling framework often without regard to chronology, so in this selection of his prose work has he paid careful attention to the overall arrangement of what he offers his readers.
It is important to note this detail, because if there is one consistent thread in Kunitz’s artistic life, it is his concern with ordering information. He has shown himself to be keenly aware of the workings of human intelligence, demonstrating in his critical and biographical writings about such poets as William Blake, John Keats, and William Butler Yeats and of such nonliterary geniuses as Albert Einstein that high levels of imagination do not function in linear, sequential ways. A toss of the intellectual dice leaves ideas scattered and inchoate. It is the work of high intellect to gather disparate snips of information and rearrange them into meaningful form. Such is the task of the highest level of writers and scientists. Knowing facts is not enough; imposing a theoretical framework upon them is what makes them resonate.
This collection has been lauded for the elegance of its style, which, in Kunitz’s case, changed quite drastically after 1960, possibly because of his close association with poets Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke, two of his closest friends. They helped him understand that the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Metaphysical conventions that had shaped his early poetry could be relaxed. As Kunitz moved toward freer poetic expression in his verse, so did he loosen somewhat the style of his essays.
This volume begins with a consideration of the universe and ends with Kunitz’s concerns about art, moving sequentially from the physical to the aesthetic and linking the two immutably. He writes, as in “Sister Arts,” about the close connection of all the arts, showing the correlations that exist between painters and wordsmiths.
His appreciative prose portraits of Mark Rothko, Roethke, and Lowell contain shrewd aesthetic judgments, well documented and untinged by personal loyalty. His interview with Lowell remains a major source on that poet. In “The Vice-President of...
(The entire section is 638 words.)