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Denise Levertov: Clouds

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]

2 comments on “Denise Levertov: Clouds

  1. Barbara Huntington
    January 15, 2021

    Besides the wonder of waking up to words creating joy or pain in their sequence, I am getting the literature education I missed as a science major. Thank you Michael.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      January 16, 2021

      Thank YOU, Barbara, for your faithful reading and responding. VP exists for people like you.

      Liked by 2 people

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