Poem for a Tuesday — “Passage” by Denise Levertov
The spirit that walked upon the face of the waters
walks the meadow of long grass;
green shines to silver where the spirit passes.
Wind from the compass points, sun at meridian,
these are forms the spirit enters,
breath, ruach, light that is witness and by which we witness.
The grasses numberless, bowing and rising, silently
cry hosanna as the spirit
moves them and moves burnishing
over and again upon mountain pastures
a day of spring, a needle’s eye
space and time are passing through like a swathe of silk.
in Oblique Prayers, New Castle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1986, p. 80.
When British-American poet Denise Levertov was five years old, she declared she would be a writer. At the age of 12, she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. Her father Paul Levertov was a Russian Hasidic Jew who taught at the University of Leipzig. During the First World War, he was held under house arrest as an enemy alien by virtue of his ethnicity. After emigrating to the UK, he converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. Denise said, “My father’s Hasidic ancestry, his being steeped in Jewish and Christian scholarship and mysticism, his fervor and eloquence as a preacher, were factors built into my cells.” She was described by the New York Times as, “the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” She wrote and published twenty-four books of poetry.