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Tribute to Poetry by Denise Levertov....

I have rediscovered the sheer beauty and quiet insight of American poet Denise Levertov (1923-1997). A friend of fellow poets Robert Duncan, William Carlos Williams, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Lucille Clifton...she wrote of life's fundamental mystery and loved her craft. As Levertov biographer Danna Greene concludes, "Poetry was not only her craft but the means by which she gave life to herself and to others.”

Here is a remarkable poem by Denise Levertov from her 1996 collection Sands and the Well (New Directions). It speaks to all writers, artists, musicians, and those who listen.

 

Writer and Reader

When a poem has come to me,

almost complete as it makes its way

into daylight, out through arm, hand, pen,

onto page; or needing

draft after draft, the increments

of change toward itself, what’s missing,

brought to it, grafted

into it, trammels of excess

peeled away till it can breathe

and leave me—

 

then I feel awe at being

chosen for the task

again; and delight, and the strange and familiar

sense of destiny.

 

But when I read or hear

a perfect poem, brought into being

by someone else, someone perhaps

I’ve never heard of before—a poem

bringing me pristine visions, music

beyond what I thought I could hear,

a stirring, a leaping

a new anguish, of new hope, a poem

trembling with its own

vital power—

 

then I’m caught up beyond

that isolate awe, that narrow delight,

into what singers must feel in a great choir,

each with humility and zest partaking

of harmonics they combine to make,

waves and ripples of music’s ocean,

who hush to listen when the aria

arches above them in halcyon stillness.