Stanley Kunitz

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz

‘Touch Me’ by Stanley Kunitz is a moving poem about aging, the loss of identity, and desire. It explores what keeps people, and creatures of all varieties, going as they enter the final “season” of their life. 

The poem is filled with unforgettable images of summer, the heart, and a desire to remember who one was when they were young. ‘Touch Me’ ends on a powerful note, with the speaker seeking out his wife’s touch as a reminder of his youth.

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz


Summary 

‘Touch Me’ by Stanley Kunitz explores aging through a series of natural images and allusions to youth. 

The poem begins with the speaker looking to the past and distinguishing it from the present. As an older man, he sees and experiences the world differently. He admires crickets in the grass, which continue to trill with only one season to live. He directs the final lines to his wife, who he hopes will remind him of the man he used to be when she touches him.

You can read the full poem here

Themes 

Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of old age and change. His speaker considers how aging has changed his perception of the world and understanding of life. Desire, he concludes, is the single reason that people, animals, and insects continue to seek out experiences and fight old age. 

Structure and Form 

‘Touch Me’ by Stanley Kunitz is a thirty-one-line block form poem contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is written in free verse. The poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines end with very different words, like “heart,” “air,” “ago,” and “love.” But, close readers will find a few examples of half-rhyme. For example, “clear” and “pour” and “heart” and “air.” The poet also uses several literary devices that add rhythm to the piece. Anaphora and repetition, more generally, are the most important. 

Literary Devices

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “It is my,” which starts lines eight and nine.
  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line. This is created through punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, “the man you married? Touch me.” 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “torn” and “two” in line five.
  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “The stiff furs knocked at my starveling throat.” 
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct scope of the poem. It’s likely that Kunitz, who was in his sixties when he wrote this piece, was thinking about his own life, childhood, and relationships. 
  • Simile: a comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” For example, “and like a child again / marveled to hear so clear.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-7

Summer is late, my heart.

(…)

of whistling wind and rain.

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker addresses someone they love. They recall saying “Summer is late, my heart” to their beloved “forty years ago” when they were “wild with love / and torn almost in two.” When they think back on this time, it is fractured by distance and age. Those words “scatter like leaves this night / of whistling wind and rain.”

The speaker is older now. He’s at a point in his life when the liveliness of youth, the power of love, and the beauty of simple moments have changed. Things have changed for him, as the next stanza elaborates. 

Readers should note the poet’s use of beautiful imagery in these lines as well as a clear example of a simile (“scatter like leaves this night”).

Lines 8-15

It is my heart that’s late,

(…)

to burst from their crusty shells;

The next lines include the phrase, “It is my heart that’s late.” This refers back to the initial opening line regarding summer. The speaker has changed, and his “song” has “flown.” Something has left the speaker’s existence (the feelings outlined in the next few lines), and he realizes that his perception of the world has shifted. 

The next image, like the “gunmetal sky” under which the speaker is kneeling, is foreboding. It suggests that darkness is present or is on its way. This is also seen through the description of the crickets, which are “about / to burst from their crusty shells” alongside the speaker as he kneels. They continue to “trill” (just as the speaker is) although death is nearby. 

Lines 16-25 

and like a child again

marveled to hear so clear

(…)

 and it’s done.

The speaker marvels over what he’s seeing and hearing, “like a child again,” and is impressed by the “brave…music” he hears pouring from the crickets. What makes them go on, he wonders? It is the same thing that fuels him as he continues to live from day to day, despite the losses and changes in his life. That is—“Desire, desire, desire.” 

The desire to live, see, experience, mate, and every other “desire” that one might think of is wrapped up in this line. The desire for more of life itself, despite a single season remaining in one’s life. 

Lines 26-31

So let the battered old willow

(…)

remind me who I am.

In the final lines, the speaker accepts that changes are coming for him and will come to everything and everyone who has ever lived in the world. He accepts that the “battered old willow” will “thrash against the windowpanes,” and the “house timbers” will creak. Death, loss, and darkness are out there and affect the speaker’s life. This creates an impressive backdrop of drama against which to set the final three lines of the poem. 

The poet addresses his “Darling,” asking her if she remembers the “man [she]…married?” This line feels imbued with desperation, as if the speaker is seeking out his old self or the person his wife chose to marry all those years ago. Or, perhaps he’s asking her if she can even remember who he used to be. 

His desire for the past and for his wife comes through in the final lines. This is particularly true with the statement, “Touch me, / remind me who I am.” With his wife’s touch, he is taken back to the past and can feel, for a moment, like the person he used to be. 

FAQs 

What is the message of ‘Touch Me?’

The message is that life goes on even when it seems like it has changed a great deal, and much of who you used to be is lost. The speaker seeks a reminder of who he used to be in his wife’s touch and takes strength from the continued trilling of the crickets as he kneels in the grass. 

What is the theme of ‘Touch Me?’ 

The theme is aging and continued love for and interest in life. The speaker knows that desire, above all else, fuels all creatures as they enter old age. Even when there is “one season” left, “Desire, desire, desire” is still there. 

What is the purpose of ‘Touch Me?’

The purpose is to explore the process of aging and what keeps one going as they feel their life-changing and disappearing around them. The speaker uses natural images and very emotional ones to paint a picture of what he’s feeling. 

When was ‘Touch Me’ published? 

The poem was published in Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected in 1995 for Kunitz’s ninetieth birthday. This piece was the final addition to the collection and is often regarded as the poet’s own contemplation of life and impending death. The collection won the 1995 National Book Award. 

What is Stanley Kunitz known for? 

He is remembered as the 10th Poet Laureate of the United States, an honor he was awarded when he was ninety-five. During his lifetime, he was regarded as one of the most important American poets of his age. He’s admired for his books of poetry and translations. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Stanley Kunitz poems. For example: 

  • The Layers’ – creates powerful images of the past and describes through clear language the struggles he has gone through trying to escape from his memories.

Other related poems include: 

  • Old Menby Ogden Nash –  is a simple poem about death and if death matters when old men reach an advanced age.
  • Beautiful Old Ageby D.H. Lawrence – is a poem in which Lawrence imagines a world in which old age is truly revered and hoped for & describes what that world would feel like.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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