Levertov on Monday

levertovDenise Levertov’s son went to my high school–he was a year younger than I, and I remember Denise Levertov coming to speak at some event–a graduation? a festival? and being impressed by her air of brooding inaccessibility. This seems to me how she looked then. That’s when I first read O Taste and See, still one of my favorites of her books. It was a revelation to me. I had been reading Hart Crane, Wordsworth, Yeats–poems with a strong sense of rhyme and meter.  Levertov’s spare, intense poems were something completely new.

She has said of the line break that it should read as “half a comma.”  I love how this poem opens, seems to detour, and resolves. And this may be the only poem I know that includes vomiting and diarrhea and still remains a poem:

The Prayer

At Delphi I prayed
to Apollo
that he maintain me
in the flame of the poem

as I shrank from the eagle’s
black shadow crossing
that sky of cruel blue,
for the Pierian Spring–

and soon after
vomited my moussaka
and then my guts writhed
for some hours with diarrhea

until at dusk
among the stones of the goatpaths
breathing dust
I questioned my faith, or

within it wondered
if the god mocked me.
But since then, though it flickers or
shrinks to a

blue bead on the wick,
there’s that in me that
burns and chills, blackening
my heart with its soot,

flaring in laughter, stinging
my feet into a dance, so that
I think sometimes not Apollo heard me
but a different god.

Densie Levertov

I was in awe of her in 1965, and am still in awe.

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