A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The clouds as I see them, rising urgently, roseate in the mounting of somber power surging in evening haste over roofs and hermetic grim walls— Last night as if death had lit a pale light in your flesh, your flesh was cold to my touch, or not cold but cool, cooling, as if the last traces of warmth were still fading in you. My thigh burned in cold fear where yours touched it. But I forced to mind my vision of a sky close and enclosed, unlike the space in which these clouds move— a sky of gray mist it appeared— and how looking intently at it we saw its gray was not gray but a milky white in which radiant traces of opal greens, fiery blues, gleamed, faded, gleamed again, and how only then, seeing the color in the gray, a field sprang into sight, extending between where we stood and the horizon, a field of freshest deep spiring grass starred with dandelions, green and gold gold and green alternating in closewoven chords, madrigal field. Is death’s chill that visited our bed other than what it seemed, is it a gray to be watched keenly? Wiping my glasses and leaning westward, clearing my mind of the day’s mist and leaning into myself to see the colors of truth I watch the clouds as I see them in pomp advancing, pursuing the fallen sun.
”Clouds” by Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1966 by Denise Levertov. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Born in Ilford, England, Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997) emigrated to the United States in 1947. She wrote and published 24 books of poetry, criticism and translations, as well as editing several anthologies. Among her many awards and honors, she received the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Lannan Award, a Catherine Luck Memorial Grant, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Levertov wrote poems about a wide variety of subjects, including marriage, nature, and spirituality. During the 1960s and 70s, Levertov became politically active in her life and work. As poetry editor for The Nation, she was able to support and publish the work of feminist and other leftist activist poets. The Vietnam War was an especially important focus of her poetry, which often tried to weave together the personal and political, as in her poem “The Sorrow Dance,” which speaks of her sister’s death. Also in response to the Vietnam War, Levertov joined the War Resisters League, and in 1968 signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war. Levertov was a founding member of the anti-war collective RESIST along with Noam Chomsky, Mitchell Goodman, William Sloane Coffin, and Dwight Macdonald. Levertov is widely regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century, and today many poets and artists find inspiration in the example she set as a poet-activist. [bio adapted from Wikipedia and The Poetry Foundation]