Last week, seminal American poet Galway Kinnell passed away. He will be remembered for the simplicity of his language while also demanding that his poems ask the big complex questions that confound us. He was capable of both Whitmanesque generosity and gritty realism that explored the most disturbing elements of American experience. His imagery often described the natural world, but he was consistently politically engaged, from the Civil Rights Movement to elegizing the victims of 9/11 to the violence done to the animal world by our hands. His animal poems are among his most memorable. Whether it be the hunted bear or porcupine, the sow or the vole, Kinnell blurred the lines between us and them, reconciling the distance between self and other. In short, there are few poets whose poems feel as human as Kinnell’s. In 1979, he published his poem “Goodbye” in The Kenyon Review. In this brief two-part piece, Kinnell is able to lead us to his mother’s deathbed, show us a fleeting moment with a tearful student, and make a declaration about the mind’s relentless hunger for the future, all in the span of fifteen lines. It makes for a fitting tribute to his own life.
Read Galway Kinnell’s “Goodbye,” first published in the Autumn 1979 issue of The Kenyon Review.