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O Eros, silently smiling one, hear me.
Let the shadow of thy wings
Let thy presence
enfold me, as if darkness
Let me see that darkness
lamp in hand,
this country become
the other country
sacred to desire.
slow the wheels of my thought
so that I listen only
to the snowfall hush of
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.
Genial poets, pink-faced
you have given the world
some choice morsels,
gobbets of language presented
as one presents T-bone steak
and Cherries Jubilee.
I don’t care
if I never taste your fine food again,
neutral fellows, seers of every side.
Tolerance, what crimes
are committed in your name.
And you, good women, bakers of nicest bread,
blood donors. Your crumbs
choke me, I would not want
a drop of your blood in me, it is pumped
by weak hearts, perfect pulses that never
to nightmare reality.
It is my brothers, my sisters,
whose blood spurts out and stops
because you choose to believe it is not your business.
shut their little mouths,
your loaves grow moldy,
a gulf has split
the ground between us,
and you won’t wave, you’re looking
We shan’t meet again—
unless you leap it, leaving
behind you the cherished
worms of your dispassion,
your pallid ironies,
your jovial, murderous,
wry-humored balanced judgment,
leap over, un-
balanced? ... then
how our fanatic tears
would flow and mingle
for joy ...
This wild night, gathering the washing as if it were flowers
animal vines twisting over the line and
slapping my face lightly, soundless merriment
in the gesticulations of shirtsleeves,
I recall out of my joy a night of misery
walking in the dark and the wind over broken earth,
halfmade foundations and unfinished
drainage trenches and the spaced-out
circles of glaring light
marking streets that were to be
walking with you but so far from you,
and now alone in October's
first decision towards winter, so close to you--
my arms full of playful rebellious linen, a freighter
going down-river two blocks away, outward bound,
the green wolf-eyes of the Harborside Terminal
glittering on the Jersey shore,
and a train somewhere under ground bringing you towards me
to our new living-place from which we can see
a river and its traffic (the Hudson and the
hidden river, who can say which it is we see, we see
something of both. Or who can say
the crippled broom-vendor yesterday, who passed
just as we needed a new broom, was not
one of the Hidden Ones?)
Crates of fruit are unloading
across the street on the cobbles,
and a brazier flaring
to warm the men and burn trash. He wished us
luck when we bought the broom. But not luck
brought us here. By design
clean air and cold wind polish
the river lights, by design
we are to live now in a new place.
As the stores close, a winter light
opens air to iris blue,
glint of frost through the smoke
grains of mica, salt of the sidewalk.
As the buildings close, released autonomous
feet pattern the streets
in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
drift and dive above them; the bodies
aren't really there.
As the lights brighten, as the sky darkens,
a woman with crooked heels says to another woman
while they step along at a fair pace,
'You know, I'm telling you, what I love best
is life. I love life! Even if I ever get
to be old and wheezy—or limp! You know?
Limping along?—I'd still ... ' Out of hearing.
To the multiple disordered tones
of gears changing, a dance
to the compass points, out, four-way river.
Prospect of sky
wedged into avenues, left at the ends of streets,
west sky, east sky: more life tonight! A range
of open time at winter's outskirts.
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
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
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,
We are faithful
only to the imagination. What the
as beauty must be truth. What holds you
to what you see of me is
that grasp alone.
in the god’s curly
that like a flower
are there to tempt
direct the moth’s
simply he is
the temple of himself,
hair and hide
a sacrifice of blood and flowers
on his altar
if any worshipper
kneel or not.
Weißer Tagesanbruch. Stille. Als das Kräuseln begann,
hielt ich es für Seewind, in unser Tal kommend mit Raunen
von Salz, von baumlosen Horizonten. Aber der weiße Nebel
bewegte sich nicht; das Laub meiner Brüder blieb ausgebreitet,
Doch das Kräuseln kam näher – und dann
begannen meine eigenen äußersten Zweige zu prickeln, fast als wäre
ein Feuer unter ihnen entfacht, zu nah, und ihre Spitzen
trockneten und rollten sich ein.
Doch ich fürchtete mich nicht, nur
wachsam war ich.
Ich sah ihn als erster, denn ich wuchs
draußen am Weidehang, jenseits des Waldes.
Er war ein Mann, so schien es: die zwei
beweglichen Stengel, der kurze Stamm, die zwei
Arm-Äste, biegsam, jeder mit fünf laublosen
Zweigen an ihrem Ende,
und der Kopf gekrönt mit braunem oder goldenem Gras,
ein Gesicht tragend, nicht wie das geschnäbelte Gesicht eines Vogels,
eher wie das einer Blume.
Er trug eine Bürde,
einen abgeschnittenen Ast, gebogen, als er noch grün war,
Strähnen einer Rebe quer darüber gespannt. Von dieser,
sobald er sie berührte, und von seiner Stimme,
die, unähnlich der Stimme des Windes, unser Laub und unsere
Äste nicht brauchte, um ihren Klang zu vollenden,
kam das Kräuseln.
Es war aber jetzt kein Kräuseln mehr (er war nahe herangekommen und
stand in meinem ersten Schatten), es war eine Welle, die mich umspülte,
als stiege Regen
empor von unten um mich herum,
anstatt zu fallen.
Und was ich spürte, war nicht mehr ein trockenes Prickeln:
Ich schien zu singen, während er sang, ich schien zu wissen,
was die Lerche weiß; mein ganzer Saft
stieg hinauf der Sonne entgegen, die nun
aufgegangen war, der Nebel hob sich, das Gras
wurde trocken, doch meine Wurzeln spürten, wie Musik sie tränkte
tief in der Erde.
Er kam noch näher, lehnte sich an meinen Stamm:
Die Rinde erschauerte wie ein noch gefaltetes Blatt.
Musik! Kein Zweig von mir, der nicht
erbebte vor Freude und Furcht.
Dann, als er sang,
waren es nicht mehr nur Klänge, aus denen die Musik entstand:
Er sprach, und wie kein Baum zuhört, hörte ich zu, und Sprache
kam in meine Wurzeln
aus der Erde,
in meine Rinde
aus der Luft,
in die Poren meiner grünsten Knospen
sanft wie Tau,
und er sang kein Wort, das ich nicht zu deuten wußte.
Er erzählte von Reisen,
davon, wo Sonne und Mond hingehen, während wir im Dunkeln stehen,
von einer Erden-Reise, von der er träumte, sie eines Tages zu tun
tiefer als Wurzeln…
Er erzählte von den Menschenträumen, von Krieg, Leidenschaften, Gram
und ich, ein Baum, verstand die Wörter – ach, es schien,
als ob meine dicke Rinde aufplatzen würde, wie die eines Schößlings,
der zu schnell wuchs im Frühling,
so daß später Frost ihn verwundete.
Feuer besang er,
das Bäume fürchten, und ich, ein Baum, erfreute mich seiner Flammen.
Neue Knospen brachen auf in mir, wenngleich es Hochsommer war.
Als ob seine Leier (nun wußte ich ihren Namen)
zugleich Frost und Feuer wäre, ihre Akkorde flammten
hinauf bis zu meiner Krone.
Ich war wieder Samen.
Ich war Farn im Sumpf.
Ich war Kohle.
The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
That's why the taste of it
drove us from Eden. That fruit
was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
God had probably planned to tell us later
about this new pleasure.
We stuffed our mouths full of it,
gorged on but and if and how and again
but, knowing no better.
It's toxic in large quantities; fumes
swirled in our heads and around us
to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
Not that God is unreasonable – but reason
in such excess was tyranny
and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
reflecting our own faces. God lives
on the other side of that mirror,
but through the slit where the barrier doesn't
quite touch ground, manages still
to squeeze in – as filtered light,
splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
then lost, then heard again.
The clouds as I see them, rising
urgently, roseate in the
mounting of somber power
surging in evening haste over
roofs and hermetic
As if death had lit a pale light
in your flesh, your flesh
was cold to my touch, or not cold
but cool, cooling, as if the last traces
of warmth were still fading in you.
My thigh burned in cold fear where
yours touched it.
But I forced to mind my vision of a sky
close and enclosed, unlike the space in which these clouds move—
a sky of gray mist it appeared—
and how looking intently at it we saw
its gray was not gray but a milky white
in which radiant traces of opal greens,
fiery blues, gleamed, faded, gleamed again,
and how only then, seeing the color in the gray,
a field sprang into sight, extending
between where we stood and the horizon,
a field of freshest deep spiring grass
starred with dandelions,
green and gold
gold and green alternating in closewoven
chords, madrigal field.
Is death’s chill that visited our bed
other than what it seemed, is it
a gray to be watched keenly?
Wiping my glasses and leaning westward,
clearing my mind of the day’s mist and leaning
into myself to see
the colors of truth
I watch the clouds as I see them
in pomp advancing, pursuing
the fallen sun.
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
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.
All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.
Early I learned to
close by the door:
then when the talk began
I’d wipe my
mouth and wend
unnoticed back to the barn
to be with the warm beasts,
dumb among body sounds
of the simple ones.
I’d see by a twist
of lit rush the motes
of gold moving
from shadow to shadow
slow in the wake
of deep untroubled sighs.
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me—light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched my tongue
and pulled my voice
into the ring of the dance.
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.
When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I'll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
Praise the wet snow
Praise the shadow
my neighor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our murderous hand,
and gives us
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.
Rose Red's hair is brown as fur
and shines in firelight as she prepares
supper of honey and apples, curds and whey,
for the bear, and leaves it ready
on the hearth-stone.
Rose White's grey eyes
look into the dark forest.
Rose Red's cheeks are burning,
sign of her ardent, joyful
Rose White is pale,
turning away when she hears
the bear's paw on the latch.
When he enters, there is
frost on his fur,
he draws near to the fire
giving off sparks.
Rose Red catches the scent of the forest,
of mushrooms, of rosin.
Together Rose Red and Rose White
sing to the bear;
it is a cradle song, a loom song,
a song about marriage, about
a pilgrimage to the mountains
Raised on an elbow,
the bear stretched on the hearth
nods and hums; soon he sighs
and puts down his head.
He sleeps; the Roses
bank the fire.
Sunk in the clouds of their feather bed
they prepare to dream.
Rose Red in a cave that smells of honey
dreams she is combing the fur of her cubs
with a golden comb.
Rose White is lying awake.
Rose White shall marry the bear's brother.
Shall he too
when the time is ripe,
step from the bear's hide?
Is that other, her bridegroom,
here in the room?
no matter what you give them,
still want the moon.
white meat and dark,
The marriage bed
and the cradle,
still empty arms.
You give them land,
their own earth under their feet,
still they take to the roads
And water: dig them the deepest well,
still it’s not deep enough
to drink the moon from.
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,
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
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.
I was seed again.
I was fern in the swamp.
I was coal.
The old wooden steps to the front door
where I was sitting that fall morning
when you came downstairs, just awake,
and my joy at sight of you (emerging
into golden day—
the dew almost frost)
pulled me to my feet to tell you
how much I loved you:
those wooden steps
are gone now, decayed
replaced with granite,
hard, gray, and handsome.
The old steps live
only in me:
my feet and thighs
remember them, and my hands
still feel their splinters.
Everything else about and around that house
brings memories of others—of marriage,
of my son. And the steps do too: I recall
sitting there with my friend and her little son who died,
or was it the second one who lives and thrives?
And sitting there ‘in my life,’ often, alone or with my husband.
Yet that one instant,
your cheerful, unafraid, youthful, ‘I love you too,’
the quiet broken by no bird, no cricket, gold leaves
spinning in silence down without
any breeze to blow them,
is what twines itself
in my head and body across those slabs of wood
that were warm, ancient, and now
wait somewhere to be burnt.
Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world's great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.
Denise Levertov (October 24, 1923–December 20, 1997) was a British-born American poet.
Born in Ilford, Essex, England, her mother, Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff, was Welsh. Her father, Paul Levertoff, immigrated to England from Germany, was a Russian Hassidic Safardic Jew who became an Anglican priest. While being educated at home, Levertov showed an enthusiasm for writing from an early age. When she was five years old, she said later in life, she declared she would be a writer. At the age of 12, she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. In 1940, when she was 17, Levertov published her first poem.
During the Blitz, Levertov served in London as a civilian nurse. Her first book, The Double Image, was published six years later. In 1947 she married American writer Mitchell Goodman and moved with him to the United States in the following year. Although Levertov and Goodman would eventually divorce, they had a son, Nikolai, and lived mainly in New York City, summering in Maine. In 1955, she became a naturalized American citizen.
Levertov's first two books had concentrated on traditional forms and language. But as she accepted the U.S. as her new home, she became more and more fascinated with the American idiom. She began to come under the influence of the Black Mountain poets and most importantly William Carlos Williams. Her first American book of poetry, Here and Now, shows the beginnings of this transition and transformation. Her poem “With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads” established her reputation.
During the 1960s and 70s, Levertov became much more politically active in her life and work. As poetry editor for The Nation, she was able to support and publish the work of feminist and other leftist activist poets. The Vietnam War was an especially important focus of her poetry, which often tried to weave together the personal and political, as in her poem "The Sorrow Dance," which speaks of her sister's death. Also in response to the Vietnam War, Levertov joined the War Resister’s League.
Much of the latter part of Levertov’s life was spent in education. After moving to Massachusetts, Levertov taught at Brandeis University, MIT and Tufts University. On the West Coast, she had a part-time teaching stint at the University of Washington and for 11 years (1982-1993) held a full professorship at Stanford University. In 1984 she received a Litt. D. from Bates College. After retiring from teaching, she traveled for a year doing poetry readings in the U.S. and England.
In 1997, Denise Levertov died at the age of 74 from complications due to lymphoma. She was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, Washington.