Monday, May 23, 2011

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov (1923–1997) was born in England. After the war she married an American, moved to New York and became an American citizen. In the US, she came under the influence of William Carlos Williams and other American poets. She, in turn, was significant in the advancement of Margaret Avison’s career — even though Avison had recently embraced Christian faith, and Levertov remained unconvinced.

Levertov’s conversion came in 1984. In 1997 she put together her selection of poems on religious themes — drawn from seven earlier collections — The Stream & the Sapphire. In the foreword she says the book traces her “own slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith”. She put the book together “as a convenience to those readers who are themselves concerned with doubt and faith”.

Flickering Mind

Lord, not you,
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away—and back,
circling.
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
darts
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
anywhere,
everywhere it can turn. Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca