National Poetry Month: Denise Levertov

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In light of April being National Poetry Month, every Monday in April, Unbound will publish a poem. I will select poems by nationally recognized poets because they speak in one way or another to what we are all facing in light of pandemic. This is the last in this ‘National Poetry Month’ series. On May 4, I’ll share one approach to reading poems and recommend some poetry anthologies. 

In the first column, I shared my background and experience with poetry. I don’t need to do that again.  Poetry is an important part of my spiritual life and a resource in the various dimensions of my ministry. As I share the poems in this series, I remember what I learned many years ago as an undergraduate in my first poetry class: a good poem should be able to speak for itself and does not elaborate introduction before being read. In light of that wisdom, I will keep my introductions brief.

The fourth selection in this series is two poems by Denise Levertov. Levertov was born in 1923, in Essex, United Kingdom. She died in Seattle in 1997. She helped found “the Writers and Artist Protest against the War in Vietnam”. Much of her later work reflects the movement in her life from agnosticism to Christian faith, both of these poems are from that period. Her poem, “The Avowal”, is a particularly meaningful poem to me. I have used it in a variety of worship contexts, as well as part of homilies at memorial services. 

PRIMARY WONDER

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.

And then

once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

The Avowal

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

”Primary Wonder” by Denise Levertov, from SANDS OF THE WELL, copyright ©1994, 1995, 1996 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. ”The Avowal” by Denise Levertov, from OBLIQUE PRAYERS, copyright ©1984 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

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