Denise Levertov

POETRY: On The Mystery Of The Incarnation by Denise Levertov

December 13, 2018

It’s when we face for a moment the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know the taint in our own selves, that awe cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart: not to a flower, not to a dolphin, to no innocent form but to this creature vainly sure it and no other is god-like, God (out of compassion for our ugly failure to evolve) entrusts, as guest, as brother, the [...]

POETRY: Immersion by Denise Levertov

November 29, 2017

There is anger abroad in the world, a numb thunder, because of God’s silence. But how naïve, to keep wanting words we could speak ourselves, English, Urdu, Tagalog, the French of Tours, the French of Haiti… Yes, that was one way omnipotence chose to address us—Hebrew, Aramaic, or whatever the patriarchs chose in their turn to call what they heard. Moses demanded the word, spoken and written. But perfect freedom assured other ways of speech. God is surely patiently trying to immerse us in a different language, events of grace, horrifying scrolls of history and the unearned retrieval of blessings lost for ever, the poor grass returning after drought, timid, persistent. God’s abstention is only from human dialects. The holy voice [...]

POETRY: What The Figtree Said by Denise Levertov

September 28, 2017

Literal minds! Embarrassed humans! His friends were blurting for Him in secret: wouldn’t admit they were shocked. They thought Him petulant to curse me!—yet how could the Lord be unfair?—so they looked away, then and now. But I, I knew that helplessly barren though I was, my day had come. I served Christ the Poet, who spoke in images: I was at hand, a metaphor for their failure to bring forth what is within them (as figs were not within me). They who had walked in His sunlight presence, they could have ripened, could have perceived His thirst and hunger, His innocent appetite; they could have offered human fruits—compassion, comprehension— without being asked, without being told of need. My absent fruit stood for their barren [...]

POETRY: The Beginning Of Wisdom by Denise Levertov

September 23, 2017

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10) You have brought me so far. • I know so much. Names, verbs, images. My mind overflows, a drawer that can’t close • Unscathed among the tortured. Ignorant parchment uninscribed, light strokes only, where a scribe tried out a pen. • I am so small, a speck of dust moving across the huge world. The world a speck of dust in the universe. • Are you holding the universe? You hold only my smallness. How do you grasp it, how does it not slip away? • I know so little. • You have brought me so [...]

POETRY: Of Being by Denise Levertov

September 17, 2017

I know this happiness is provisional: the looming presences— great suffering, great fear— withdraw only into peripheral vision: but ineluctable this shimmering of wind in the blue leaves: this flood of stillness widening the lake of sky: this need to dance, this need to kneel: this [...]

POETRY: Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis by Denise Levertov

September 6, 2017

Maybe he looked indeed much as Rembrandt envisioned Him in those small heads that seem in fact portraits of more than a model. A dark, still young, very intelligent face, a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging. That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions. The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him that He taste also the humiliation of dread, cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go, like any mortal hero out of his depth, like anyone who has taken a step too far and wants herself back. The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how, in the midnight Garden, or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross, He went through with even the [...]

POETRY: Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell by Denise Levertov

September 2, 2017

Down through the tomb’s inward arch He has shouldered out into Limbo to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber: the merciful dead, the prophets, the innocents just His own age and those unnumbered others waiting here unaware, in an endless void He is ending now, stooping to tug at their hands, to pull them from their sarcophagi, dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas, neighbor in death, Golgotha dust still streaked on the dried sweat of his body no one had washed and anointed, is here, for sequence is not known in Limbo; the promise, given from cross to cross at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn. All these He will swiftly lead to the Paradise road: they are safe. That done, there must take place that struggle no human presumes to [...]

POETRY: The Great Black Heron by Denise Levertov

August 27, 2017

Since I stroll in the woods more often than on this frequented path, it’s usually trees I observe; but among fellow humans what I like best is to see an old woman fishing alone at the end of a jetty, hours on end, plainly content. The Russians mushroom-hunting after a rain trail after themselves a world of red sarafans, nightingales, samovars, stoves to sleep on (though without doubt those are not what they can remember). Vietnamese families fishing or simply sitting as close as they can to the water, make me recall that lake in Hanoi in the amber light, our first, jet-lagged evening, peace in the war we had come to witness. This woman engaged in her pleasure evokes an entire culture, tenacious field-flower growing itself among the [...]

POETRY: Re-Rooting by Denise Levertov

August 16, 2017

We were trying to put the roots back, wild and erratic straying root-limbs, trying to fit them into the hole that was cleancut in clay, deep but not wide enough; or wide but too square—trying to get the roots back into earth before they dried out and died. Ineptly we pulled and pushed striving to encompass so many rivers of wood and fiber in one confinement without snapping the arteries of sap, the force of life springing in them that made them spring away from our hands— we knew our own life was tied to that strength, that strength we knew would ebb away if we could not find within us the blessed guile to tempt its energy back into earth, into the quiet depths from which we had rashly torn it, and now clumsily struggled to thrust it [...]

POETRY: Wanting The Moon by Denise Levertov

August 12, 2017

Not the moon. A flower on the other side of the water. The water sweeps past in flood, dragging a whole tree by the hair, a barn, a bridge. The flower sings on the far bank. Not a flower, a bird calling hidden among the darkest trees, music over the water, making a silence out of the brown folds of the river’s cloak. The moon. No, a young man walking under the trees. There are lanterns among the leaves. Tender, wise, merry, his face is awake with its own light, I see it across the water as if close up. A jester. The music rings from his bells, gravely, a tune of sorrow, I dance to it on my [...]

POETRY: This Day by Denise Levertov

August 6, 2017

i Dry wafer, sour wine. This day I see God’s in the dust, not sifted out from confusion. ii Perhaps, I thought, passing the duckpond, perhaps—seeing the brilliantly somber water deranged by lost feathers and bits of drowning bread—perhaps these imperfections (the ducklings practised their diving, stylized feet vigorously cycling among débris) are part of perfection, a pristine nuance? our eyes our lives, too close to the canvas, enmeshed within the turning dance, to see it? iii In so many Dutch 17th-century paintings one perceives a visible quietness, to which the concord of lute and harpsichord contribute, in which a smiling conversation reposes; ‘calme, luxe,” and—in auburn or mercurial sheen of vessels, autumnal [...]

POETRY: O Taste And See by Denise Levertov

June 27, 2017

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalm 34:8) The world is not with us enough. O taste and see the subway Bible poster said, meaning The Lord, meaning if anything all that lives to the imagination’s tongue, grief, mercy, language, tangerine, weather, to breathe them, bite savor, chew, swallow, transform into our flesh our deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince, living in the orchard and being hungry, and plucking the [...]

POETRY: St. Peter and the Angel by Denise Levertov

September 14, 2016

Delivered out of raw continual pain, smell of darkness, groans of those others to whom he was chained— unchained, and led past the sleepers, door after door silently opening— out! And along a long street’s majestic emptiness under the moon: one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one feeling the air before him, eyes open but fixed . . . . And not till he saw the angel had left him, alone and free to resume the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of what he had still to do, not till then did he recognize this was no dream. More frightening than arrest, than being chained to his warders: he could hear his own footsteps suddenly. Had the angel’s feet made any sound? He could not recall. No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit. He [...]

POETRY: That Day by Denise Levertov

July 29, 2015

Across a lake in Switzerland, fifty years ago, light was jousting with long lances, fencing with broadswords back and forth among cloudy peaks and foothills. We watched from a small pavilion, my mother and I, enthralled. And then, behold, a shaft, a column, a defined body, not of light but of silver rain, formed and set out from the distant shore, leaving behind the silent feints and thrusts, and advanced unswervingly, at a steady pace, toward us. I knew this! I’d seen it! Not the sensation of déjà vu: it was Blake’s inkwash vision, ‘The Spirit of God Moving Upon the Face of the Waters’! The column steadily came on across the lake toward us; on each side of it, there was no rain. We rose to our feet, breathless— [...]

POETRY: Ascension by Denise Levertov

May 20, 2015

Stretching Himself as if again, through downpress of dust upward, soil giving way to thread of white, that reaches for daylight, to open as green leaf that it is. . . Can Ascension not have been arduous, almost, as the return from Sheol, and back through the tomb into breath? Matter reanimate now must relinquish itself, its human cells, molecules, five senses, linear visions endured as Man— the sole all-encompassing gaze resumed now, Eye of Eternity. Relinquished, earth’s broken Eden. Expulsion, liberation, last self-enjoined task of Incarnation. He again Fathering Himself. Seed-case splitting, He again Mothering His birth: torture and bliss. [...]

POETRY: Hanging On Hope, or not — Poems on Hope

March 5, 2014

Let No Charitable Hope Elinor Wylie Now let no charitable hope Confuse my mind with images Of eagle and of antelope: I am in nature none of these. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. In masks outrageous and austere The years go by in single file; But none has merited my fear, And none has quite escaped my smile. Hope Gary Soto Maybe a dog I loved best will limp Up the street and fall at my feet, Not really hurt, just tired. “Smoky,” I cry, and in crying send the sparrows In the tree a limb higher. “I missed you, I really missed you. Where did you go?” I peel back his eyelids and view An adventure—oh, how he dodged cars And [...]

POETRY: On A Theme From Julian’s Chapter XX by Denise Levertov

March 15, 2013

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes, hot wood, the nails, blood trickling into the eyes, yes— but the thieves on their neighbor crosses survived till after the soldiers had come to fracture their legs, or longer. Why single out the agony? What’s a mere six hours? Torture then, torture now, the same, the pain’s the same, immemorial branding iron, electric prod. Hasn’t a child dazed in the hospital ward they reserve for the most abused, known worse? The air we’re breathing, these very clouds, ephemeral billows languid upon the sky’s moody ocean, we share with women and men who’ve held out days and weeks on the rack— and in the ancient dust of the world what particles of the long tormented, what [...]

POETRY: The Fountain by Denise Levertov

January 29, 2013

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water to solace the dryness at our hearts. I have seen the fountain springing out of the rock wall and you drinking there. And I too before your eyes found footholds and climbed to drink the cool water. The woman of that place, shading her eyes, frowned as she watched—but not because she grudged the water, only because she was waiting to see we drank our fill and were refreshed. Don’t say, don’t say there is no water. That fountain is there among its scalloped green and gray stones, it is still there and always there with its quiet song and strange power to spring in us, up and out through the [...]

POETRY: The Fountain by Denise Levertov

January 8, 2013

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water to solace the dryness at our hearts I have seen the fountain springing out of the rock wall and you drinking there. And I too before your eyes found footholds and climbed to drink the cool water. The woman of that place, shading her eyes, frowned as she watched—but not because she grudged the water, only because she was waiting to see we drank our fill and were refreshed. Don’t say, don’t say there is no water. That fountain is there among its scalloped green and gray stones, it is still there and always there with its quiet song and strange power to spring in us, up and out through the [...]

POETRY: Human Being by Denise Levertov

December 20, 2012

Human being—walking in doubt from childhood on: walking a ledge of slippery stone in the world’s woods deep-layered with set leaves—rich or sad: on one side of the path, ecstasy, on the other dull grief.Walking the mind’s imperial cities, roofed-over alleys, thoroughfares, wide boulevards that hold evening primrose of sky in steady calipers. Always the mind walking, working, stopping sometimes to kneel in awe of beauty, sometimes leaping, filled with the energy of delight, but never able to pass the wall, the wall of brick that crumbles and is replaced, of twisted iron, of rock, the wall that speaks, saying monotonously: Children and animals who cannot learn anything from suffering suffer, are tortured, die in [...]