- I long for poems of an inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which they exist. Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.
- Statement on poetics in The New American Poetry (1960) edited by Donald Allen
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)
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
- Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus (1981); Online excerpt
- 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 (1960)
I like to find
what's not found
at once, but lies
within something of another nature,
in repose, distinct.
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.
O Taste and See : New Poems (1964)
- 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."
Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don't know the
I love them
for finding what
I can't find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
most of all.
A Tree Telling of Orpheus (1968)
- 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
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,
The music reached us.
stumbling over our own roots,
rustling our leaves
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
The Freeing of the Dust (1975)
Conversation in Moscow
- 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?
- 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
- Leaps of nerve, heart —
cries of communion: if there is bliss,
and will be; out-
to itself, flooded
The Freeing of the Dust
- pure dust that is all
in all. Bless,
weightless Spirit. Drink
Caliban, push your tongue
heavy into the calyx.
The Wealth of the Destitute
- I am tired of 'the fine art of unhappiness'.
Oblique Prayers (1984)
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 —
- 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)
- Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
- Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
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
- Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber...
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)
- 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
Quotes about Denise Levertov
- Over many years (I am almost 72) so many poets have touched my imagination and opened paths for me—it hardly makes sense to list them. I have always read a great deal of poetry. Some poets—like Robert Lowell, Denise Levertov, Randall Jarrell, Jean Valentine, Audre Lorde, Hayden Carruth, Jane Cooper, June Jordan, Joy Harjo, Clayton Eshelman—have been my friends, we’ve been comrades in exchanging work and encouraging each other