Wednesday, June 29, 2011

variation on a theme by rilke

i recently shared a poem here by denise levertov entitled “sojourns in the parallel world”.
i was so taken by her writing, i thought that it might be interesting to dig a little deeper.
it's a great story of course.

levertov was born in england on october 24, 1923 to a welsh mum and to a dad who was a russian hasidic jew who converted to christianity and became an anglican parson.

with a heritage like that, it follows that you might have the opportunity to be extraordinary!
worlds are being welcomed into your life that bear a little attention.
maybe even some care.

levertov claims that she announced at the age of five that she was going to become a writer and in fact at the age of twelve she sent her writing to no less than t.s. eliot who
wrote her a two page letter of encouragement in reply!
so how cool is that?!

later levertov married an american and moved to america where she became an american citizen.
here she came under the influence of (among others) the black mountain poets who worked out of the extremely cool and forward thinking black mountain college.
(just for interest’s sake, you should read the list of faculty who at one time worked at this college!)

it is in her reflective and thoughtful writing that i find the greatest value and resonance.
if you read this poem out loud to yourself,
not in shame or awkwardness
but full in the knowledge
that these words are your own
you'll hear yourself saying something
so incredibly beautiful and true
that you'll find the moment it describes
calling to you from so very long ago,
this present moment,
or most exciting of all -
the future that you are creating
and bringing to be.

variation on a theme by rilke

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.

in the course of her writing life, she received many awards, scholarships and fellowships, a sort of testimony to one part of the world that was affected by the power and beauty of her poetry.
denise levertov flew away in 1997 at the age of 74.
a beautiful tribute to denise was written by fellow poet robert creeley.

if you would like to read more of her work, a collection of denise’s poetry is maintained by chris corrigan. google books has several of her works including selected poems, a door in the hive, breathing the water, this great unknowing, and several others.


R. Burnett Baker said...

Thanks for this education. I will explore her work! You mention Robert Creeley. I have a cd that is loosely one of jazz poetry that is quite interesting. A few of the poems recited to this music are quite striking. If I'm not mistaken, this project was completed just prior to his death, and released some months after. I'm attaching the link if you want to explore!


The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for that Steven. I read the poem aloud and you are quite right - it is beautiful and it resonates within oneself. I had never heard of her so shall now do some research before my next poetry group meeting.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for introducing us to such a wonderful weaver of words, Steven. I'd not heard of Denise Levertov before now. I'm glad to know something of her life and talent.

Jj Rodriguez said...

This is interesting! For somebody who is starting to love poetry, this is very helpful.

Thanks for sharing!


alaine@éclectique said...

Thank you, Steven, for this post and links; I'll enjoy seeking more of Denise Levertov's works.

aguja said...

Thank you for this post, Steven. Her writing is truly incredible. I shall follow up the links you have posted.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow!! I really really really needed this particular post this morning, Steven, including reading the Rilke out loud without shame or embarrassment. I know you didn't write this just for me, but it feels like you did. Thank you!

hope said...

I love learning something new. And the next time I see a bell, I'll think "I can."

steven said...

hi rick. i've been listening to steve swallow's work - especially with carla bley - for some time. creeley's work crossed my path when he did a piece with brian eno. thanks so much for the link connecting creeley and swallow. i'll continue digging. steven

steven said...

weaver, i just got in from a day's work and read the poem to myself and really i am so grateful that she wrote this because it steps outside of the soft platitudes of career coaching and dives so much deeper into the harsh and beautiful realities of being. steven

steven said...

elisabeth - sometimes writer's and artists and musicians and dancers cross my path ever so breifly but i remember my dad saying that nothing and no one crosses your path by accident. i think of it as crossing and melding. steven

steven said...

jj - i ditched poetry for a very long time. it was too precise, too demanding, and often asked for more than it gave. i've turned a corner that allows me to read and sometimes find myself inside poems. it's a very special place, almost as special as music. steven

steven said...

alaine - i hope you enjoy the journey. steven

steven said...

aguja - there is so much of her work available and her insight and re-presentation of that insight allows for so much learning on the reader's part. enjoy your time with her work steven

steven said...

hope - in the documentary "baraka", there is a scene of a monk walking alone on a tokyo street. a small bell chimes. when i read denise's work i thought of that bell. steven

steven said...

reya you got it right the first time. steven

Ruth said...

Levertov is a treasure. I so appreciate your nudge to read this poem without awkwardness or shame. This is one of the most important messages in my life.

Rima said...

Thank you for the introduction to Denise Levertov's words Steven... they've lured me :)