Denise Levertov

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I am tired of "the fine art of unhappiness."
To leave the open fields
and enter the forest,

that was the rite.

Denise Levertov (24 October 192320 December 1997) was a British-American poet.

Quotes[edit]

Praise
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.


  • To leave the open fields
    and enter the forest,

    that was the rite.
    Knowing there was mystery, they could go.

    Go back now! And he receded among the multitude of forms, the twists and shadows they saw now, listening to the hum of the world's wood.

    • "The Novices" (1960)


  • Praise
    the invisible sun burning beyond
    the white cold sky, giving us
    light and the chimney's shadow.


Acknowledgement, and celebration, of mystery probably constitutes the most consistent theme of my poetry from its very beginnings.
  • Acknowledgement, and celebration, of mystery probably constitutes the most consistent theme of my poetry from its very beginnings. Because it is a matter of which I am conscious, it is possible, however imprecisely, to call it an intellectual position; but it is one which emphasizes the incapacity of reason alone (much though I delight in elegant logic) to comprehend experience, and considers Imagination the chief of human faculties. It must therefore be by the exercise of that faculty that one moves toward faith, and possibly by its failure that one rejects it as delusion. Poems present their testimony as circumstantial evidences, not as closing argument. Where Wallace Stevens says, "God and the imagination are one," I would say that the imagination, which synergizes intellect, emotion and instinct, is the perceptive organ through which it is possible, though not inevitable, to experience God.
    • A Poets View (1984)

With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (1959)[edit]

I like to find
what's not found
at once, but lies

within something of another nature,
in repose, distinct.


  • I like to find
    what's not found
    at once, but lies

    within something of another nature,
    in repose, distinct.

    • Pleasures


  • I like the juicy stem of grass that grows
    within the coarser leaf folded round,
    and the butteryellow glow

    in the narrow flute from which the morning-glory
    opens blue and cool on a hot morning.

    • Pleasures


O Taste and See : New Poems (1964)[edit]

The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see.


  • The world is
    not with us enough.
    O taste and see.
    • This a response to William Wordsworth's famous statement: "The world is too much with us late and soon."


The Secret[edit]

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line.

Full text online
  • Two girls discover
    the secret of life
    in a sudden line of
    poetry.

    I who don't know the
    secret wrote
    the line.


  • I love them
    for finding what
    I can't find,

    and for loving me
    for the line I wrote,
    and for forgetting it

    so that

    a thousand times, till death
    finds them, they may
    discover it again, in other
    lines

    in other
    happenings. And for
    wanting to know it,
    for

    assuming there is
    such a secret, yes,
    for that
    most of all.


A Tree Telling of Orpheus (1968)[edit]

As he sang
it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened...
He told of journeys,
of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
deeper than roots ...
Fire he sang,
that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames....
In the forest
they too had heard,
and were pulling their roots in pain
out of a thousand years' layers of dead leaves...
We have stood here since,
in our new life.
We have waited.
Perhaps he will not return. But what we have lived omes back to us. We see more. We feel, as our rings increase,
something that lifts our branches, that stretches our furthest leaf-tips
further.
The wind, the birds,
do not sound poorer but clearer,
recalling our agony, and the way we danced.


  • I was the first to see him, for I grew
                        out on the pasture slope, beyond the forest.
    He was a man, it seemed. . .


  • Then as he sang
    it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
    he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened
    , and language
                        came into my roots
                                    out of the earth,
                        into my bark
                                    out of the air,
    into the pores of my greenest shoots
                gently as dew
    and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.


  • He told of journeys,
                        of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
                        of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
    deeper than roots ...

    He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
                        and I, a tree, understood words – ah, it seemed
    my thick bark would split like a sapling's that
                                                                grew too fast in the spring
    when a late frost wounds it.


  •                                              Fire he sang,
    that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames.

    New buds broke forth from me though it was full summer.
                        As though his lyre (now I knew its name)
                        were both frost and fire, its chords flamed
    up to the crown of me.
                        I was seed again.
                                            I was fern in the swamp.
                                                                            I was coal.


  • And I
            in terror
                            but not in doubt of
                                                                what I must do
    in anguish, in haste,
                            wrenched from the earth root after root,
    the soil heaving and cracking, the moss tearing asunder —

    and behind me the others: my brothers
    forgotten since dawn. In the forest
    they too had heard,
    and were pulling their roots in pain
    out of a thousand years' layers of dead leaves,
                    rolling the rocks away,
                                                breaking themselves
                                                                    out of
                                                                            their depths.


  •                                                     The music reached us.

    Clumsily,
                stumbling over our own roots,
                                                            rustling our leaves
                                                                                in answer,
    we moved, we followed.


  • By dawn he was gone.
                                    We have stood here since,
    in our new life.
                            We have waited.
                                                        He does not return.


  • It is said he made his earth-journey, and lost
    what he sought.
                                It is said they felled him
    and cut up his limbs for firewood.
                                                                And it is said
    his head still sang and was swept out to sea singing.


  • Perhaps he will not return.
                                                But what we have lived
    comes back to us.
                            We see more.
                                                    We feel, as our rings increase,
    something that lifts our branches, that stretches our furthest
                                                                                                        leaf-tips
    further.


  • The wind, the birds,
                                                    do not sound poorer but clearer,
    recalling our agony, and the way we danced.

The Freeing of the Dust (1975)[edit]

Conversation in Moscow[edit]

One must imagine,
One must deeply imagine
that great Attention


  • To me it seems perhaps
    Kropotkin understood half
    of what we need to know,
    and Lenin perhaps
    knew half, and true revolution … true revolution
    must put these two halves together?


I am not joking. I'm speaking
of spirit. Not dogma but spirit. The Way.
  • To serve the people,
    one must write for the ideal reader.
    Only for the ideal reader.
    And who or what is that ideal reader? God. One must imagine,
    One must deeply imagine
that great Attention
Only so,
In lonely dialog,
can one reach the people.


  • I am not joking. I'm speaking
    of spirit. Not dogma but spirit. The Way.


  • The poet
    never must lose despair.


  • all of us know he means
    we mustn't, any of us, lose touch with the source,
    pretend it's not there, cover over
    the mineshaft of passion


If there is bliss,
it has
been already
and will be; out-
reaching, utterly.
Blind
to itself, flooded
with otherness.

Freedom[edit]

  • Leaps of nerve, heart —
    cries of communion: if there is bliss,
    it has
    been already
    and will be; out-
    reaching, utterly.

    Blind
    to itself, flooded
    with otherness.


The Freeing of the Dust[edit]

Let Ariel learn
a blessing for Caliban
and Caliban drink dew from the lotus
open upon the waters.
  • Let Ariel learn
    a blessing for Caliban
    and Caliban drink dew from the lotus
    open upon the waters.


  • pure dust that is all
    in all.    Bless,
    weightless Spirit. Drink
    Caliban, push your tongue
    heavy into the calyx.


The Wealth of the Destitute[edit]

  • I am tired of 'the fine art of unhappiness'.

Oblique Prayers (1984)[edit]

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.
  • 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!

    • St. Peter and the Angel


  • 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.
    • St. Peter and the Angel


  • He himself must be
    the key, now, to the next door,
    the next terrors of freedom and joy.
    • St. Peter and the Angel

A Door in the Hive (1989)[edit]

Flickering Mind[edit]

You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.


  • Lord, not you,
    it is I who am absent.


  • Not for one second
    will my self hold still, but wanders
    anywhere,
    everywhere it can turn. Not you,
    it is I am absent.


  • You are the stream, the fish, the light,
    the pulsing shadow.
    You the unchanging presence, in whom all
    moves and changes.

    How can I focus my flickering, perceive
    at the fountain's heart
    the sapphire I know is there?


Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell[edit]

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber...


  • Down through the tomb's inward arch
    He has shouldered out into Limbo
    to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber...


If mortal sight could bear to perceive it, it would be seen His mortal flesh was lit from within, now, and aching for home.
  •             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 picture:
    living, dying, descending to rescue the just
    from shadow, were lesser travails
    than this: to break
    through earth and stone of the faithless world
    back to the cold sepulcher, tearstained
    stifling shroud; to break from them
    back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
    the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
    wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
    streaming through every cell of flesh
    so that if mortal sight could bear
    to perceive it, it would be seen
    His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
    and aching for home. He must return,
    first, in Divine patience, and know
    hunger again, and give
    to humble friends the joy
    of giving Him food — fish and a honeycomb.

Sands of the Well (1994)[edit]

  • Rain-diamonds, this winter morning, embellish the tangle of unpruned pear-tree twigs; each solitaire, placed, it appearrs, with considered judgement, bears the light beneath the rifted clouds — the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.
    • Bearing the Light


External links[edit]

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