Monday, November 17, 2014

Peter Levi

Peter Levi (1931—2000) is a British poet whose father was Jewish and Mother was Roman Catholic. He became a Jesuit novice when he was just 17, and became a priest. He left the priesthood in 1977 to get married. In 1984 he became Oxford Professor of Poetry. He wrote more than twenty volumes of poetry including: The Gravel Ponds (1960), Death Is A Pulpit (1971) and Reed Music (2007). He also edited The Penguin Book of English Christian Verse (1984).

When The Paris Review asked for his advice to young writers, part of what he said was, "Steer clear of the writing departments of universities..." and then he added, "Writing is like breathing or it ought to be. One’s got to write poems. Like one has to go to church. Not out of social duty, or because there’s any pressure on one to do so. Not even out of reaction to people who say one shouldn’t do so. But just because of some decent, natural good behavior. One might as well go on with it."

The following poem was included in the anthology British Poetry Since 1945 by Edward Lucie-Smith (Penguin).

"To speak about the soul"

To speak about the soul.
I wake early. You don't sleep in summer.
In the morning a dead-eyed nightingale is still awake in you.
What has been done and suffered
with whatever is left to be suffered
is in the soul.
Oracles are given elsewhere. Their speech is announced with

In the early morning
you see women walking to the sanctuaries:
a light touch of sun on the whitewash:
a light touch of fire burning the oil.
You tell me nothing.
This is the desert I will write about.
The desert is not an island: the island is not enchanted: and the
------desert is no habitation for men.
The bird with the burnt eyes sang sweetest.
A desert further off
One small simple cloud. Heat at midday. A little constellated
------handwriting. Heat at midnight.
You never say.
To be woken by hearing
the voices of the enchanted birds
and the voices of the disenchanted birds.

Say what is like a tree, like a river, like a mountain, a cloud over
------the sun?
My memory has been overshadowed
by that live light and by that dying light.

The soul is no more than human.

The rising sky is as wide as the desert.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.