“Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable.

Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”

Stanley Kunitz was born Massachusetts on July 9th, 1905. Six weeks prior to his birth, his father, Solomon Kunitz, committed suicide in a park, leaving Kunitz and his two sisters to be raised by their mother, Yetta Kunitz (née Jasspon). From his poetry, it is clear that Kunitz felt the loss of his father greatly; his father’s suicide and father and child relationships, more generally, reappear in many of his poems, but, perhaps, most notably in “The Portrait” and “Journal  for My Daughter”. The death of his sisters would also come to haunt his later works.

Kunitz attended Harvard, graduating in 1926 with a degree in English. He returned and finished his Master’s degree the next year. Initially, he intended to start teaching right after graduation – he was rejected, however, due to his Jewish heritage. He went on to become an editor with H.W. Wilson Publishing Company, marrying a woman named Helen Pearce and publishing his first collection of poems, Intellectual Things, in 1930.

Kunitz was drafted into World War II thirteen years later. From his experiences as a non-combatant/conscientious objector, he went on to publish Passport to The War in 1944. Like his first volume, Passport to The War was largely overloked. He went on to teach at various colleges, at one point taking over (at Bennington College) for Theodore Roethke, whom he’d met and befriended sometime in the mid-1930’s. At different points, he taught at Yale, Rutgers, Brandeis, Vassar, Princeton, and Colombia University (where he stayed for twenty-two years).

           Kunitz was married three times, and became the poet laureate of the state of New York in 1987. In 1958 (the year he married his second wife), Kunitz published his third collection of poems, Selected Poems, which gained him much attention and a Pulitzer Prize in 1959. He went on to travel and do translations of many Russian writers and poets, eventually publishing his fourth volume of poetry, The Testing Tree, in 1971. The Testing Tree was significant because it marked a noticeable change in Kunitz’s poetry, presenting poems that were less rigidly structured and (arguably) more accessible than many of his earlier works.

Kunitz became the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2000, at the age of 95. After The Testing Tree (1971), he would go on to publish eight more collections. His final one, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on A Century in The Garden, was published in 2005, when Kunitz was 100 years old. The book combined his love of poetry and gardening, containing poems, photographs, prose pieces, and scraps of conversations, split up into several sections. Poet Galway Kinnell called it, “A miracle”.

Kunitz died from pneumonia in May of 2006, at the age of 100. He was survived by his daughter, Gretchen Kunitz, and stepdaughter, Babette Becker, as well as five grandchildren. He was buried in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the state where his beloved garden grew.