“Wisdom of the Body” – Stanley Kunitz on poetry (and massage)

These words are excerpted from the essay “The Wisdom of the Body” from Stanley Kunitz’ book Next-to-Last Things.  I’ve found them inspiring my massage therapy again and again over the years.

For ages before (human writing), “immense quantities of human experience,” in Alfred North Whitehead’s phrase,”had been accumulating in men’s bodies.”  The body, in its genetic code, holds the long odyssey of the race.  When our organs are working healthily and harmoniously, the joy that floods our being cannot be much different from what Adam knew.  No interpreter is needed for a conversation between bodies…

“This is what you shall do,” wrote Walt Whitman in his preface to Leaves of Grass:

     “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men – go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families – re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Stanley Kunitz

We need to refrain, as Walt Whitman does, from speaking of mind as though it were somehow opposed to body, or of spirit as though it were somehow superior to mind.  In my philosophy, all three – body, mind, spirit – are merely stages of incandescence, or awareness, in the same living organism.  As the lights go on within, we begin to see everything that is, everything that happens, impinging on us.  Our most sublime thoughts have their feet planted in clay; our best songs are body-songs.