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Best Famous Denise Levertov Poems

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Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

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?
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

What Were They Like?

 Did the people of Viet Nam
use lanterns of stone?
Did they hold ceremonies
to reverence the opening of buds?
Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
Did they use bone and ivory,
jade and silver, for ornament?
Had they an epic poem?
Did they distinguish between speech and singing?

Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
It is not remembered whether in gardens stone gardens illumined pleasant ways.
Perhaps they gathered once to delight in blossom, but after their children were killed there were no more buds.
Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
A dream ago, perhaps.
Ornament is for joy.
All the bones were charred.
it is not remembered.
Remember, most were peasants; their life was in rice and bamboo.
When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces, maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
When bombs smashed those mirrors there was time only to scream.
There is an echo yet of their speech which was like a song.
It was reported their singing resembled the flight of moths in moonlight.
Who can say? It is silent now.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

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.
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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.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

In California During the Gulf War

 Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink--
a delicate abundance.
They seemed like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving the sackcloth others were wearing.
To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well with our shame and bitterness.
Skies ever-blue, daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.
Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches more lightly than birds alert for flight, lifted the sunken heart even against its will.
But not as symbols of hope: they were flimsy as our resistance to the crimes committed --again, again--in our name; and yes, they return, year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy over against the dark glare of evil days.
They are, and their presence is quietness ineffable--and the bombings are, were, no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany simultaneous.
No promise was being accorded, the blossoms were not doves, there was no rainbow.
And when it was claimed the war had ended, it had not ended.
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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.
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Everything That Acts Is Actual

 From the tawny light
from the rainy nights
from the imagination finding
itself and more than itself
alone and more than alone
at the bottom of the well where the moon lives,
can you pull me

into December? a lowland
of space, perception of space
towering of shadows of clouds blown upon
clouds over new ground, new made
under heavy December footsteps? the only
way to live?

The flawed moon acts on the truth, and makes
an autumn of tentative silences.
You lived, but somewhere else, your presence touched others, ring upon ring, and changed.
Did you think I would not change? The black moon turns away, its work done.
A tenderness, unspoken autumn.
We are faithful only to the imagination.
What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.
What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

The Garden Wall

 Bricks of the wall, 
so much older than the house - 
taken I think from a farm pulled down 
when the street was built - 
narrow bricks of another century.
Modestly, though laid with panels and parapets, a wall behind the flowers - roses and hollyhocks, the silver pods of lupine, sweet-tasting phlox, gray lavender - unnoticed - but I discovered the colors in the wall that woke when spray from the hose played on its pocks and warts - a hazy red, a grain gold, a mauve of small shadows, sprung from the quiet dry brown - archetype of the world always a step beyond the world, that can't be looked for, only as the eye wanders, found.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

September 1961

 This is the year the old ones,
the old great ones
leave us alone on the road.
The road leads to the sea.
We have the words in our pockets, obscure directions.
The old ones have taken away the light of their presence, we see it moving away over a hill off to one side.
They are not dying, they are withdrawn into a painful privacy learning to live without words.
E.
P.
"It looks like dying"-Williams: "I can't describe to you what has been happening to me"- H.
D.
"unable to speak.
" The darkness twists itself in the wind, the stars are small, the horizon ringed with confused urban light-haze.
They have told us the road leads to the sea, and given the language into our hands.
We hear our footsteps each time a truck has dazzled past us and gone leaving us new silence.
Ine can't reach the sea on this endless road to the sea unless one turns aside at the end, it seems, follows the owl that silently glides above it aslant, back and forth, and away into deep woods.
But for usthe road unfurls itself, we count the words in our pockets, we wonder how it will be without them, we don't stop walking, we know there is far to go, sometimes we think the night wind carries a smell of the sea.
.
.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

On the Mystery of the Incarnation

 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 Word.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

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.
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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.
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To the Snake

 Green Snake, when I hung you round my neck
and stroked your cold, pulsing throat
as you hissed to me, glinting
arrowy gold scales, and I felt
the weight of you on my shoulders,
and the whispering silver of your dryness
sounded close at my ears --


Green Snake--I swore to my companions that certainly
you were harmless! But truly
I had no certainty, and no hope, only desiring
to hold you, for that joy, 
which left
a long wake of pleasure, as the leaves moved
and you faded into the pattern
of grass and shadows, and I returned
smiling and haunted, to a dark morning.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

A Tree Telling of Orpheus

 White dawn.
Stillness.
When the rippling began I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors of salt, of treeless horizons.
But the white fog didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched, unmoving.
Yet the rippling drew nearer – and then my own outermost branches began to tingle, almost as if fire had been lit below them, too close, and their twig-tips were drying and curling.
Yet I was not afraid, only deeply alert.
I was the first to see him, for I grew out on the pasture slope, beyond the forest.
He was a man, it seemed: the two moving stems, the short trunk, the two arm-branches, flexible, each with five leafless twigs at their ends, and the head that's crowned by brown or golden grass, bearing a face not like the beaked face of a bird, more like a flower's.
He carried a burden made of some cut branch bent while it was green, strands of a vine tight-stretched across it.
From this, when he touched it, and from his voice which unlike the wind's voice had no need of our leaves and branches to complete its sound, came the ripple.
But it was now no longer a ripple (he had come near and stopped in my first shadow) it was a wave that bathed me as if rain rose from below and around me instead of falling.
And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling: I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know what the lark knows; all my sap was mounting towards the sun that by now had risen, the mist was rising, the grass was drying, yet my roots felt music moisten them deep under earth.
He came still closer, leaned on my trunk: the bark thrilled like a leaf still-folded.
Music! There was no twig of me not trembling with joy and fear.
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 me 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.
Written by Denise Levertov | Create an image from this poem

The Avowal

 As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.