MORTAL ACTS, MORTAL WORDS by Galway Kinnell

MORTAL ACTS, MORTAL WORDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title is from Petrarch: "". . . mortal beauty, acts, and words have put all their burden on my soul""; and this is a book devoted to learned wisdom, conveyed in Kinnell's typically blank, dense, narrative style. A superb poem, ""Fergus Failings,"" opens the book with the story of the poet's young son encountering Brue Pond, a place which represents for Kinnell the knowledge of the world: ""and when Fergus/ saw the pond for the first time/ . . . saw its oldness down there/ . . . he became heavier suddenly/ in his bones/ the way fledglings do just before they fly."" Mortality and significance walk somberly through these poems; in the shorter lyrics, this causes trouble. In ""Les Invalides,"" we see the poet fumble: ""always at boules it's the creaking grace, the slow amble, the stillness,/ always it's the dusk deepening,/ . . ./ always it's the past blowing its terrors behind distracted eyes."" The words aren't sharp enough, the image is too unfocused, for the conclusion. The longer poems carry the weight of significance and repetition far better--the fine long poems in this collection include ""Angling, A Day,"" ""The Sadness of Brothers,"" ""The Last Hiding Places of Snow"" (a moving poem about his mother's death)--and ""Flying Home,"" a love poem to his wife from the airplane: ""love is hard. . ./ . . ./ because love is first of all a power,/ its own power,/ which continually must make its way forward, from night/ into day, from transcending union always forward/ into difficult day."" Kinnell looks for, and usually finds, in the midst of mortal sorrow (""distrust everything, if you have to./ But trust the hours. Haven't they/ carried you everywhere, up to now?"") the simple, desperate faith in mortality itself. His wisdom is hard-won and persuasive.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1980
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin