Feb 8 – – William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov — a long generation apart, but very close

Friday, February 8, 2019

“It turns out that Williams, despite fragile health in his later years, mentored younger poets at his home.
One of them was Denise Levertov, a favorite of yours.”   George Danko to jstsj  May 22, 2018

George  and I met in early September 1973 as we both began finding our way around on our first day at U Penn’s PhD program in American Civilization. These 45 years later we remain good friends who sometimes trade stories of insight or grief or beauty.  Last May, George surprised me.  From reading the Work Day/Hard Times poetry list, he knew that the poets William Carlos Williams and Denise Levertov often appeared there.  Until last May, I had no notion that they shared a living room where Williams listened to Levertov’s young voice and told her what he heard – – a magical inter-generational kinship.

Two poets, two poems.  I hope you can find time to read each one out loud, with pauses.  They will be worth the time this Friday early in February.  Have a blest weekend.


john sj

p.s. Just now, c. 8:30 am here in Detroit, a lovely snow began to fall, large flakes helped along by a trace of wind.

Today’s Post:   George Danko to jstsj, May 22, 2018

“Dear John,

I recently read a children’s book, A River of Words, about William Carlos Williams, the pediatrician and poet who wrote and administered to families in my hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. His son also followed his father in a medical career and was my pediatrician. It turns out that Williams, despite fragile health in his later years, mentored younger poets at his home. One of them was Denise Levertov, a favorite of yours.


William Carlos Williams:     The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams
September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963

Denise Levertov:  The Poem Rising By Its Own Weight
‘The poet is at the disposal of his own night.’
Jean Cocteau

The singing robes fly onto your body and cling there silkily,
You step out on the rope and move unfalteringly across it,

And seize the fiery knives unscathed and
Keep them spinning above you, a fountain
Of rhythmic rising, falling, rising

And proudly let the chains
Be wound about you, ready
To shed them, link by steel link,
padlock by padlock–

but when your graceful
confident shrug and twist drives the metal
into your flesh and the python grip of it tightens
and you see rust on the chains and blood in your pores
and you roll
over and down a steepness into a dark hole
and there is not even the sound of mockery in the distant air
somewhere above you where the sky was,
no sound but your own breath panting:
then it is that the miracle
walks in, on his swift feet,
down the precipice straight into the cave,
opens the locks,
knots of chain fall open,
twists of chain unwind themselves,
links fall asunder,
in seconds there is a heap of scrap-
metal at your ankles, you step free and at once
he turns to go —
but as you catch at him with a cry,
clasping his knees, sobbing your gratitude,
with what radiant joy he turns to you,
and raises you to your feet,
and strokes your disheveled hair,
and holds you,
holds you,
holds you
close and tenderly before he vanishes.

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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