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Best Famous Denise Levertov Poems

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by Denise Levertov | |

Variation On A Theme By Rilke

 A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me--a sky, air, light:
a being.
And before it started to descend from the height of noon, it leaned over and struck my shoulder as if with the flat of a sword, granting me honor and a task.
The day's blow rang out, metallic--or it was I, a bell awakened, and what I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can.


by Denise Levertov | |

Wedding-Ring

 My wedding-ring lies in a basket 
as if at the bottom of a well.
Nothing will come to fish it back up and onto my finger again.
It lies among keys to abandoned houses, nails waiting to be needed and hammered into some wall, telephone numbers with no names attached, idle paperclips.
It can't be given away for fear of bringing ill-luck.
It can't be sold for the marriage was good in its own time, though that time is gone.
Could some artificer beat into it bright stones, transform it into a dazzling circlet no one could take for solemn betrothal or to make promises living will not let them keep? Change it into a simple gift I could give in friendship?


by Denise Levertov | |

The Ache Of Marriage

 The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.


More great poems below...

by Denise Levertov | |

Celebration

 Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors, deft hands.
And every prodigy of green – whether it's ferns or lichens or needles or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes – greener than ever before.
And the way the conifers hold new cones to the light for the blessing, a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind transcribes for them! A day that shines in the cold like a first-prize brass band swinging along the street of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds with the claims of reasonable gloom.


by Denise Levertov | |

Losing Track

 Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track,
the moon I watch goes down, the

tide swings you away before
I know I'm
alone again long since,

mud sucking at gray and black
timbers of me,
a light growth of green dreams drying.


by Denise Levertov | |

In Mind

 There's in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass.
She wears a utopian smock or shift, her hair is light brown and smooth, and she is kind and very clean without ostentation- but she has no imagination And there's a turbulent moon-ridden girl or old woman, or both, dressed in opals and rags, feathers and torn taffeta, who knows strange songs but she is not kind.


by Denise Levertov | |

Hymn To Eros

 O Eros, silently smiling one, hear me.
Let the shadow of thy wings brush me.
Let thy presence enfold me, as if darkness were swandown.
Let me see that darkness lamp in hand, this country become the other country sacred to desire.
Drowsy god, slow the wheels of my thought so that I listen only to the snowfall hush of thy circling.
Close my beloved with me in the smoke ring of thy power, that we way be, each to the other, figures of flame, figures of smoke, figures of flesh newly seen in the dusk.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Thread

 Something is very gently, 
invisibly, silently, 
pulling at me-a thread 
or net of threads 
finer than cobweb and as 
elastic.
I haven't tried the strength of it.
No barbed hook pierced and tore me.
Was it not long ago this thread began to draw me? Or way back? Was I born with its knot about my neck, a bridle? Not fear but a stirring of wonder makes me catch my breath when I feel the tug of it when I thought it had loosened itself and gone.


by Denise Levertov | |

Intrusion

 After I had cut off my hands
and grown new ones

something my former hands had longed for
came and asked to be rocked.
After my plucked out eyes had withered, and new ones grown something my former eyes had wept for came asking to be pitied.


by Denise Levertov | |

Stepping Westward

 What is green in me
darkens, muscadine.
If woman is inconstant, good, I am faithful to ebb and flow, I fall in season and now is a time of ripening.
If her part is to be true, a north star, good, I hold steady in the black sky and vanish by day, yet burn there in blue or above quilts of cloud.
There is no savor more sweet, more salt than to be glad to be what, woman, and who, myself, I am, a shadow that grows longer as the sun moves, drawn out on a thread of wonder.
If I bear burdens they begin to be remembered as gifts, goods, a basket of bread that hurts my shoulders but closes me in fragrance.
I can eat as I go.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Breathing

 An absolute
patience.
Trees stand up to their knees in fog.
The fog slowly flows uphill.
White cobwebs, the grass leaning where deer have looked for apples.
The woods from brook to where the top of the hill looks over the fog, send up not one bird.
So absolute, it is no other than happiness itself, a breathing too quiet to hear.


by Denise Levertov | |

Talking to Grief

 Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you into the house and give you your own corner, a worn mat to lie on, your own water dish.
You think I don't know you've been living under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied before winter comes.
You need your name, your collar and tag.
You need the right to warn off intruders, to consider my house your own and me your person and yourself my own dog.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Great Black Heron

 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 rows of cotton in red-earth country, under the feet of mules and masters.
I see her a barefoot child by a muddy river learning her skill with the pole.
What battles has she survived, what labors? She's gathered up all the time in the world --nothing else--and waits for scanty trophies, complete in herself as a heron.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Rainwalkers

 An old man whose black face
shines golden-brown as wet pebbles
under the streetlamp, is walking two mongrel dogs of dis-
proportionate size, in the rain,
in the relaxed early-evening avenue.
The small sleek one wants to stop, docile to the imploring soul of the trashbasket, but the young tall curly one wants to walk on; the glistening sidewalkentices him to arcane happenings.
Increasing rain.
The old bareheaded man smiles and grumbles to himself.
The lights change: the avenue's endless nave echoes notes of liturgical red.
He drifts between his dogs' desires.
The three of them are enveloped - turning now to go crosstown - in their sense of each other, of pleasure, of weather, of corners, of leisurely tensions between them and private silence.


by Denise Levertov | |

On a Theme by Thomas Merton

 "Adam, where are you?"
 God's hands
palpate darkness, the void
that is Adam's inattention,
his confused attention to everything,
impassioned by multiplicity, his despair.
Multiplicity, his despair; God's hands enacting blindness.
Like a child at a barbaric fairgrounds -- noise, lights, the violent odors -- Adam fragments himself.
The whirling rides! Fragmented Adam stares.
God's hands unseen, the whirling rides dazzle, the lights blind him.
Fragmented, he is not present to himself.
God suffers the void that is his absence.


by Denise Levertov | |

Zeroing In

 "I am a landscape," he said,
"a landscape and a person walking in that landscape.
There are daunting cliffs there, and plains glad in their way of brown monotony.
But especially there are sinkholes, places of sudden terror, of small circumference and malevolent depths.
" "I know," she said.
"When I set forth to walk in myself, as it might be on a fine afternoon, forgetting, sooner or later I come to where sedge and clumps of white flowers, rue perhaps, mark the bogland, and I know there are quagmires there that can pull you down, and sink you in bubbling mud.
" "We had an old dog," he told her, "when I was a boy, a good dog, friendly.
But there was an injured spot on his head, if you happened just to touch it he'd jump up yelping and bite you.
He bit a young child, they had to take him to the vet's and destroy him.
" "No one knows where it is," she said, "and even by accident no one touches it: It's inside my landscape, and only I, making my way preoccupied through my life, crossing my hills, sleeping on green moss of my own woods, I myself without warning touch it, and leap up at myself--" "--or flinch back just in time.
" "Yes, we learn that It's not terror, it's pain we're talking about: those places in us, like your dog's bruised head, that are bruised forever, that time never assuages, never.
"


by Denise Levertov | |

The Well

 At sixteen I believed the moonlight 
could change me if it would.
I moved my head on the pillow, even moved my bed as the moon slowly crossed the open lattice.
I wanted beauty, a dangerous gleam of steel, my body thinner, my pale face paler.
I moonbathed diligently, as others sunbathe.
But the moon's unsmiling stare kept me awake.
Mornings, I was flushed and cross.
It was on dark nights of deep sleep that I dreamed the most, sunk in the well, and woke rested, and if not beautiful, filled with some other power.


by Denise Levertov | |

St. Peter and the Angel

 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 himself must be the key, now, to the next door, the next terrors of freedom and joy.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Elves

 Elves are no smaller
than men, and walk
as men do, in this world,
but with more grace than most,
and are not immortal.
Their beauty sets them aside from other men and from women unless a woman has that cold fire in her called poet: with that she may see them and by its light they know her and are not afraid and silver tongues of love flicker between them.


by Denise Levertov | |

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:
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 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 sepulchre, 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.


by Denise Levertov | |

Sojourns in the Parallel World

 We live our lives of human passions,
cruelties, dreams, concepts,
crimes and the exercise of virtue
in and beside a world devoid
of our preoccupations, free
from apprehension--though affected,
certainly, by our actions.
A world parallel to our own though overlapping.
We call it "Nature"; only reluctantly admitting ourselves to be "Nature" too.
Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions, our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute, an hour even, of pure (almost pure) response to that insouciant life: cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing pilgrimage of water, vast stillness of spellbound ephemerae on a lit windowpane, animal voices, mineral hum, wind conversing with rain, ocean with rock, stuttering of fire to coal--then something tethered in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch of gnawed grass and thistles, breaks free.
No one discovers just where we've been, when we're caught up again into our own sphere (where we must return, indeed, to evolve our destinies) --but we have changed, a little.


by Denise Levertov | |

An excerpt from Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus

 iiGloria

Praise the wet snow
falling early.
Praise the shadow my neighor's chimney casts on the tile roof even this gray October day that should, they say, have been golden.
Praise the invisible sun burning beyond the white cold sky, giving us light and the chimney's shadow.
Praise god or the gods, the unknown, that which imagined us, which stays our hand, our murderous hand, and gives us still, in the shadow of death, our daily life, and the dream still of goodwill, of peace on earth.
Praise flow and change, night and the pulse of day.


by Denise Levertov | |

Settling

 I was welcomed here—clear gold
of late summer, of opening autumn, 
the dawn eagle sunning himself on the highest tree, 
the mountain revealing herself unclouded, her snow 
tinted apricot as she looked west, 
Tolerant, in her steadfastness, of the restless sun 
forever rising and setting.
Now I am given a taste of the grey foretold by all and sundry, a grey both heavy and chill.
I've boasted I would not care, I'm London-born.
And I won't.
I'll dig in, into my days, having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price of neighboring with eagles, of knowing a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.


by Denise Levertov | |

The Dog of Art

 That dog with daisies for eyes
who flashes forth
flame of his very self at every bark
is the Dog of Art.
Worked in wool, his blind eyes look inward to caverns and jewels which they see perfectly, and his voice measures forth the treasure in music sharp and loud, sharp and bright, bright flaming barks, and growling smoky soft, the Dog of Art turns to the world the quietness of his eyes.


by Denise Levertov | |

Web

 Intricate and untraceable 
weaving and interweaving,
dark strand with light:

designed, beyond
all spiderly contrivance,
to link, not to entrap:

elation, grief, joy, contrition, entwined;

shaking, changing,

forever

forming, 

transforming:

all praise,

all praise to the

great web.