In his article in the August 4-11, 2014, issue of America, Edwin Block Jr. writes about the "enduring worth" of the poetry of Denise Levertov, who died in 1997. "Labels like feminist, ecologist, activist and spiritual seeker touch only a part of who she was and what she has bequeathed," Block writes. "Like the many individuals—friends, mentors and models—she celebrated, and like the persons we are, Denise Levertov resists classifications."
Here we offer two poems from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov. Used with Permission of Paul Lacey.
An old man sleeping in the evening train,
face upturned, mouth discreetly closed,
hands clasped, with fingers interlaced.
Those large hands
lie on the fur lining of his wife’s coat
he’s holding for her, and the fur
looks like a limp dog, docile and affectionate.
The man himself is a peasant
in city clothes, moderately prosperous –
rich by the standards of his youth;
one can read that in his hands,
his sleeping features.
How tired he is, how tired.
I called him old, but then I remember
my own age, and acknowledge he’s likely
no older than I. But in the dimension
that moves with us but itself keeps still
like the bubble in a carpenter’s level,
I’m fourteen, watching the faces I saw each day
on the train going in to London,
and never spoke to; or guessing
from a row of shoes what sort of faces
I’d see if I raised my eyes.
Everyone has an unchanging age (or sometimes two)
carried within them, beyond expression.
This man perhaps
is ten, putting in a few hours most days
in a crowded schoolroom, and a lot more
at work in the fields; a boy who’s always
making plans to go fishing his first free day.
The train moves through the dark quite swiftly
(an Italian dark, as it happens)
with its load of people, each
with a conscious destination, each
with a known age and that other,
the hidden one – except for those
still young, or not young but slower to focus,
who haven’t reached yet that state of being
which will become
not a point of arrest but a core
around which the mind develops, reflections circle,
events accrue – a center.
A girl with braids
sits in this corner seat, invisible,
pleased with her solitude. And across from her
an invisible boy, dreaming. She knows
she cannot imagine his dreams. Quite swiftly
we move through our lives; swiftly, steadily the train
rocks and bounces onward through sleeping fields,
our unknown stillness
holding level as water sealed in glass.
On a Theme by Thomas Merton
‘Adam, where are you?
palpate darkness, the void
that is Adam’s inattention,
his confused attention to everything,
impassioned by multiplicity, his despair.
Multiplicity, his despair,
enacting blindness. Like a child
at a barbaric fairgrounds –
noise, lights, the violent odors –
Adam fragments himself. The whirling rides!
Fragmented Adam stares.
unseen, the whirling rides
dazzle, the lights blind him. Fragmented,
he is not present to himself. God
suffers the void that is his absence.