Sunday, September 14, 2008

checking in with Denise Levertov

"Journeyings", by Denise Levertov

Majestic insects buzz through the sky
bearing us pompously from love to love,
grief to grief,
motes in the gaze of that unblinking eye.

Our threads of life are sewn into dark cloth,
a sleeve that hangs down over
a sinister wrist. All of us.
It must be Time whose pale fingers
dangle beneath the hem...

Solemn filaments, our journeyings
wind through the overcast.


Not to say too much toward this sublime piece out of The Freeing of the Dust (1975), but a few things: it is a fantasy at a time when fantasy is not really big, as a genre, (unless you consider Zeppelin) but the "unblinking eye" does provoke me to ask: whose eye? A question which we must approach individually, since I can't say there is here a clear Tolkein reference. Elements of the Gothic; then, is "Time" here maternal -?, because of the "dangle"-ing, not paternal as we often see it presented, an interesting reversal of the image of Father Time. Somehow I imagine a woman's hand being depicted here, but wonder why it has to be "sinister?"

Why do I imagine this depiction? Because in another poem of hers, The Soothsayer, there is a similar sequence:

My daughters, the old woman says,
the weaver of fictions, tapestries
from which she pulls only a single thread each day, ...(etc)

Great use of ellipsis in the first piece. A poem that succeeds by not trying too hard, for one thing.
But could my interpretation regarding the femininity of the hand be off? I make an easy association from one poem to the other as I read the language presented, but of course I cannot know the mind of the master poet Denise Levertov, and why she made her creative choices. Is it her mother's hand, or her grandmother's, maybe it is the archetypal Hand of Destiny, as in the saying "destiny had a hand in it."


Whether or not its a man's hand or a woman's hand might be a fun thing to argue about over darts, but now I make a grander presumption, which is that the person I'm throwing darts with would actually enjoy poetry. Indeed the hand itself does not technically appear in the poem, there is only a wrist, sleeve and fingers visible- I create the image I need out of the surrounding details, which I think is what poetry can help us do. Well, it's not a big stretch for this particular poem, but for me the image of the hand lingers, even though I never really get a good look at it.

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