The Limits of Alt-Ism
Paul Simon's Surprise

Denise Levertov's Poems of Faith

Levertov You do not have to agree with all that Denise Levertov was passionate about to appreciate her poetry, and for Christians that's particularly the case with her "religious" poems.  Religious is in quotes because these poems, as collected in her book, The Stream & the Sapphire, chronicle a passage from agnosticism to Christian belief.  In so doing, they reflect honest searching, some resolution, and yet even more questions.

I love the affirmation of faith and yet the humility in both the followinSapphireg poems:

In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

Birds afloat in air's current,
sacred breath?  No, not breath of God,
it seems, but God
the air enveloping the whole
globe of being.
It's we who breathe, in, out, in, in the sacred,
leaves astir, our wings
rising, ruffled -- but only the saints
take flight.  We cower
in cliff-crevice or edge out gingerly
on branches close to the nest.  The wind
marks the passage of holy ones riding
that ocean of air.  Slowly their wake
reaches us, rocks us.
But storms or still,
numb or poised in attention,
we inhale, exhale, inhale,
encompassed, encompassed.

Flickering Mind

Lord, not you
it is I who am absent.
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away -- and back,
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
everywhere it can turn.  Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow.
You the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there?

Born in England, and home-schooled in a very literate household, Levertov began to write poems at the age of five.  She published her first work at the age of 16.  She married and emigrated to the United States after WWII, where she became a citizen eventually.  She taught, published poetry, and, at some point, came to faith.

I like what she says about writing: "When you're really caught up in writing a poem, it can be a form of prayer. I'm not very good at praying, but what I experience when I'm writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem. But in certain ways writing is a form of prayer."  She talks about prayer being very much about paying attention -- something that requires some discipline and focus.

Levertov died in 1997 -- thank God, in faith.