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Denise Levertov – Breathing the Water


It’s a Levertov-reading sort of morning.

I’m slowly making my way through this small collection of her poems.

I liked her take on the carpe diem theme, one that I love but that is hard to pull off without it being clichéd or cloying. Confession time: I definitely wrote a cloying carpe diem poem for my poetry class last fall. Le gasp and facepalm. But I was already in pretty deep because it was a sestina (dun dun dun) and falling back on an old theme is comforting in the face of unforgiving form, especially when you are a novice with meter and form, not yet comfortable with breaking “the rules.”

Thank God there are poets out there breathing life (and water) into old things.

Variation on a Theme by Rilke

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

A certain day became a presence to me;

there it was, confronting me–a sky, air, light:

a being. And before it started to descend

from the height of noon, it leaned over

and struck my shoulder as if with

the flat of a sword, granting me

honor and a task. The day’s blow

rang out, metallic–or it was I, a bell awakened,

and what I heard was my whole self

saying and singing what it knew: I can.

– Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water

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