Monday, June 20, 2011

Readings: The Poet at Twilight

In a previous post I shared a poem from the collection Evening Train by Denise Levertov. I found that volume at the public library’s monthly book sale. When I began reading it I found it so enjoyable that I also borrowed This Great Unknowing: Last Poems from the university library. I have found this book to be equally valuable.

In an afterward entitled “A Note on the Text” editor Paul A. Lacey explains that this collection of the last poems written by Denise Levertov differs from other collections in that the poems were not arranged in order of presentation by the poet. Instead, after her death, they have been collected in roughly chronological order, i.e., in the order of their composition. Lacey quotes Levertov concerning how she saw her oeuvre fitting together, from which we can understand the considerations that may have come into play as she prepared a volume for publication:

“As one goes on living and working, themes recur, transposed into another key perhaps. Single poems that seemed isolated perceptions when one wrote them prove to have struck the first note of a scale or a melody… Though the artist as explorer in language of the experiences of his or her life is, willy-nilly, weaving a fabric, building a whole in which each discrete work is a part that functions in some way in relation to all the others.”

Both the order of presentation and the title of this final collection were determined by her literary executors, but the work is hers alone and shines with an excellence undiminished by her age at their time of composition. Here is one example that particularly grabbed me:


All which, because it was
flame and song granted us
joy, we thought we’d do, be, revisit,
turns out to have been what it was
that once, only; every initiation
did not begin
a series, a build-up: the marvelous
xxxxxxxxdid happen in our lives, our stories
xxxxxxxxare not drab with its absence: but don’t
expect now to return for more. Whatever more
there will be will be
unique as those were unique. Try
to acknowledge the next
song in its body-halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.

Therein lies great wisdom.