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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.


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 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 | |

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 | |

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.