Stanley Kunitz published this poem when he was 73 years old:
I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon and the slow fires trailing from the abandoned camp-sites, over which scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings. Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections, and my tribe is scattered! How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? In a rising wind the manic dust of my friends, those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face. Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. Stanley Kunitz, 1905 - 2006
In the next to last poem he ever wrote, A Thanksgiving, W.H. Auden pays homage to the voices without whom, he reckons, "I couldn't have managed / even my weakest of lines." It's quite a list: - Hardy, Thomas and Frost, for inspiring his early adolescent verse - Yeats and Graves for a young lover, discovering the center of the universe isn't exactly him - Hitler and Stalin, who "forced" questions of divinity - Kierkegaard, Williams and Lewis, who guided the poet "back to belief" Then comes the poet's turn towards his own uncertain future, as the aging Auden, already a beloved master, asks: "Who are the tutors I need?" A question the most profoundly accomplished among us never stop asking. We're each on our own desperate, unending search -- not just for wisdom, but for the sages generous enough to share it. Not just a search for learning, but a search for who to learn from. Sometimes it's awkward, like that afternoon I spent in my office with inventor Dean Kamen, who I was dying to meet and learn from. Turned out, Dean was far more interested in excoriating me for my ineptitude at effecting global change than anything else. Unpleasant as it was, Dean is our generation's Ben Franklin, and I continue to learn from him. My own list of teachers is long and quite an array. Filmmakers, poets, artists, musicians, curators, an evolutionary biologist, a few bankers, countless entrepreneurs and investors, journalists, philosophers, bloggers, my parents, an uncle.... I make time every month to consult individually with a smaller set, what I call my Council of Elders, a group of advisors who've been through what I'm experiencing many times over, and who've come out the other side with a perspective I'm decades from achieving on my own. Here's Auden's poem (written the year he died, the year I was born), in its entirety:
When pre-pubescent I felt that moorlands and woodlands were sacred: people seemed rather profane.
Thus, when I started to verse, I presently sat at the feet of Hardy and Thomas and Frost.
Falling in love altered that, now Someone, at least, was important: Yeats was a help, so was Graves.
Then, without warning, the whole Economy suddenly crumbled: there, to instruct me, was Brecht.
Finally, hair-raising things that Hitler and Stalin were doing forced me to think about God.
Why was I sure they were wrong? Wild Kierkegaard, Williams and Lewis guided me back to belief.
Now, as I mellow in years and home in a bountiful landscape, Nature allures me again.
Who are the tutors I need? Well, Horace, adroitest of makers, beeking in Tivoli, and
Goethe, devoted to stones, who guessed that — he never could prove Newton led science astray.
Fondly I ponder You all: without You I couldn’t have managed even my weakest of lines.- W.H. Auden, 1973