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Variation On A Theme By Rilke

by Denise Levertov


Original Language English

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)*

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.


-- from Breathing the Water, by Denise Levertov
<>


*Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The Rilke verse referenced is--

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there's a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

(translation by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)
Poetry Chaikhana | Denise Levertov - Variation On A Theme By Rilke

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
nerthus
Jul. 24th, 2016 07:30 pm (UTC)
Funny, how of all the poets this one comes to my attention again; I just recently copied several of her poems into a journal I keep, poems I read in a library book I'd checked out. I didn't want the whole book, else I would have just ordered a copy for myself; but there were a few 'religious' poems that struck me and I wanted to save them. I do have that Rilke poem, I went through my mad Rilke phase and have so many of his poetry books, ha. But here is one of Denise Levertov's poems I copied:

Suspended

I had grasped God's garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
The 'everlasting arms' my sister loved to remember
must have upheld my leaden weight
from falling, even so,
for though I claw at empty air and feel
nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummeted.

And here's another, longer one about The Fall of mankind:

Contraband

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 an 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.
bobby1933
Jul. 25th, 2016 09:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Lovely poems.
I had to read the second one
several times to decide
whether i like it.
I like it!
jayyy
Jul. 30th, 2016 05:07 am (UTC)
Haefestus wow. Perfect, beautiful, amazing... words do not do justice. Tears. Thanks.
nerthus
Jul. 30th, 2016 07:10 pm (UTC)
You're welcome; and here's yet one more of hers that I copied, written from the pov of the fig tree in that famous Bible story/parable which so many people still discuss and argue about; was Jesus out of character, cursing the poor tree as he did, or did the 'tree' in this poem have the right of it:

What the Figtree Said
by Denise Levertov

Literal minds! Embarrassed humans! His friends
were blushing for him
in secret, wouldn't admit they were shocked.
They thought Him
petulant to curse me!--yet how could the Lord
be unfair?--So they looked away,
then and now.
But I, I know that
helplessly barren though I was,
my day had come. I served
Christ the Poet,
who spoke in images: I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what it is within them (as figs
were NOT within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite,
they could have offered
human fruits--compassion, comprehension--
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.
jayyy
Aug. 6th, 2016 03:01 am (UTC)
Let us not belittle perfection with a need for more, so I will retariate a form most humblesome to the Lord:



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.

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there's a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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