Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review of "Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year" by Maxine Kumin

"Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year" by Maxine Kumin was offered by's Poem-A-Day on February 8, 2014.  A link to the poem may be found here:

Maxine Kumin (pictured, photo by Sara Barrett) was born in 1925 and died two days ago.  She published numerous books of poetry, including Poems of New England for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.  She served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that later became Poet Laureate of the United States.  She also served as the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.  Additional biographical information may be found here:

The poem opens with a quote by writer and novelist Hilma Wolitzer, known affectionately as "The Great Middle-Aged Hope."  Additional information about Mrs. Wolitzer may be found here:

The second stanza refers to the University of Grenoble, an institution of higher learning in France.  Additional information about the university may be found here:  Further reference is made to Stendhal, pseudonym for the French author Marie-henri Beyle (1783 - 1842), and to his unfinished autobiographical work, Lucien Leuwen, published posthumously in 1894.  Additional information about Stendhal may be found here:  Additional information about Lucien Leuwen may be found here:

The third stanza refers to the Cunard White Star, a British luxury cruise service.  Additional information may be found here:

On the surface, the poem is about a long life well lived but not without a tiny regret.  The poet wonders if she had taken that once-in-a-lifetime trip, would she still have married the man with whom she spent sixty happy years?  Her husband said he would have waited for her, but the truth is one never knows.

I too married relatively young and never did (and never will do) certain things in my life that I otherwise would have done.  I have no regrets.  Sometimes, love cannot wait. The real take home message of "Looking Back" is not how much the poet regrets never having taken that trip.  The real message is about how sad she might have been had she taken that trip and, by doing so, lost her true love--now THAT would be something to regret.

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