September 12, 2010

When the Towers Fell by Galway Kinnell

Towers in Light: David Z - Pixabay

Galway Kinnell's poem "When the Towers Fell" was first published in The New Yorker, 2002. It is one of the few poems I can return to about that day.

It contains quotations from “The Testament,” by Fran├žois Villon; “For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,” by Hart Crane; “Death Fugue,” by Paul Celan; “Songs of a Wanderer,” by Aleksander Wat; “City of Ships” and “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” by Walt Whitman.

The poem begins:

From our high window we saw the towers
with their bands and blocks of light
brighten against a fading sunset,
saw them at any hour glitter and live
as if the spirits inside them sat up all night
calculating profit and loss, saw them reach up
to steep their tops in the until then invisible
yellow of sunrise, grew so used to them
often we didn’t see them, and now,
not seeing them, we see them.

The banker is talking to London.
Humberto is delivering breakfast sandwiches.
The trader is already working the phone.
The mail sorter has started sorting the mail...

Read the full poem online at


  1. movie scene-like imagery, cool

  2. Either the structure is brilliantly hidden , or it's more chopped up prose described as poetry. Clunky & graceless , it sounds rushed and a bit self reverential in its Auden-like lapses into German which the poet then oddly proceeds to translate.

    1. Kinnell weaves quotes from other poets along with the ordinary events of that day that became extraordinary


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