Monday, December 17, 2018
Friends of mine often quote a line from Denise Levertov's poetry and although I'd never heard of her before, that piqued my curiosity. Challenge reading gave me an additional nudge to read With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads, which was published in the year I was born.
As I grow older, time seems more and more amazing to me. Imagine that when I was just a baby, when American society was so diferent, this woman was already a mature poet, writing with a modern sensibility about the beauty and intricacy of the natural world! And meanwhile perhaps she was wearing a hat and white gloves for every social occasion, like my mother did -- or willfully discarding them as a representation of her true self. It's really quite extraordinary.
Levertov's poetry requires a pause, a certain level of attention, and the resulting stillness in the reader allows the natural rhythms to come through. Reading aloud is the best way I've found to attune to the pulse of her words and understand her meaning. Her clear voice leaves adjectives behind for the most part, reflecting the way that Nature simply is but our awareness can lead us into spiritual places. Although it's often difficult to know Levertov's subject on first glance, the reader who slows and pays attention will be rewarded with a glimpse of another dimension.
Maybe it is true we have to return
to the black air of ashcan city
because it is there the most life was burned,
as ghosts or criminals return?
But no, the city has no monopoly
of intense life. The dust burned
golden or violet in the wide land
to which we ran away, images
of passion sprang out of the land
as whirlwinds or red flowers, your hands
opened in anguish or clenched in violence
under that sun, and clasped my hands
in that place to which we will not return
where so much happened that no one else noticed,
where the city's ashes that we brought with us
flew into the intense sky still burning.
Note: I read this book for the Birth Year Reading Challenge, and it also counts toward the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.