Poetry Review: “Aware” by Denise Levertov

Pay Attention (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Pay Attention (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

As a poet, Denise Levertov’s work consistently reflects her interests in politics and religion. Her style shows her willingness to push boundaries, to demand space in literature for things of “ultimate concern.” It is this that I have always most admired about her…  and would most like to emulate.

In her early career, she was very influenced by William Carlos Williams. I fancy at times that I can see that influence… not so much in theme and style as in a certain core sensibility, a way of seeing things.

Most of all what shines through in her poetry is her essential “Catholicness” (she converted to Roman Catholicism late in her life). By that I mean, her way of seeing the world is above all sacramental.

I did not begin reading Levertov seriously until I was in my late thirties, probably around the time of her death. It was a Donald Hall essay, I think, that led me to look again at her poetry. I wish I would have been reading her more seriously earlier.

“Aware” is not my favorite Levertov poem… but probably since I have been thinking of mindfulness of late, it was the first one that came to my mind this morning flipping through a volume of her poems. It shows well, I think, the “sacramentalness” of her work and her wonderful command of language.


When I found the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop

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