I have always thought of Denise Levertov as intimidating. Looking back at a volume of her poetry I am not completely sure why that is. At first glance, she does not seem anymore or less accessible than a dozen other poets I can think of… and yet she does intimidate.
Theology and philosophy are constant themes in her poetry. Levertov brings an intelligence and breadth to her poetry that demands intelligent readers. You cannot read her lightly or with only your ear… you need to use both sides of your brain.
“Seeing for a Moment” is to my mind a “typical” Levertov poem… not so much in style as in direction or theme. It is a theological poem in the best sense of that term. It asks the reader to think deeper and more theologically about an ordinary moment: seeing one’s reflection, and more than merely a reflection, in a mirror.
Stylistically the poem is deceptively simple: short lines and stanzas. The complexity of the poem, like most of Levertov’s poems, is in the ideas not the form. It is this in the end that makes her an interesting and demanding poet.
Outside my Minnesota home the weather is warming. The sun stays longer each day in the sky, brightening my mood and making me feel strong enough to tackle even Denise Levertov. Enjoy!
Seeing for a Moment
I thought I was growing wings—
it was a cocoon.
I thought, now is the time to step
into the fire—
it was deep water.
Eschatology is a word I learned
as a child: the study of Last Things;
facing my mirror—no longer young,
the news—always of death,
the dogs—rising from sleep and clamoring
and howling, howling,
I see for a moment
that’s not it: it is
the First Things.
Word after word
floats through the glass.