Friday, October 4, 2013

Denise Levertov 'Life in the Forest'


I recently picked up Life in the Forest by Denise Levertov in the paperback trade section of the library.  I'd read of her briefly in various anthologies, but this is the first of her full-length books I own.

When I first began reading, I didn't feel I'd care much for it.  But as the pages passed and I began to draw parallels from the words she shared to my own life, I grew more fond of some of the poems.

Though she states in her forward that she was trying to move away from the more autobiographical poems, I feel that most of the poems within this book are quite confessional, and others lean more toward personal observation.

If I were to rate this book, I'd give it a 4 star rating...particularly because of entertainment value and the places her words allowed me to travel.

Below is a poem I am particularly fond of, probably my favorite from the whole collection.  I'm not sure I remember how it feels to be content in solitude.  Though I may fill my bed with books, I never get the chance to sleep in, to unplug my phone, to juggle the affection of whatever fair-weather lover I have found in a book store on the college campus or the coffee shop down the street.  No longer do I venture my feet, giddy of just being 21 and so alive with a world full of stones to be unturned, tipping my toes into the apartment of some disheveled artist in wild hair who dreams of painting me naked, though I never let him.

I have entered my thirties.  Sometimes it feels as if there's a silent clock winding down inside me.  I am a mother, a grown up, the adult bone shadows of the frivolous girl I was once in her shining eyes, excited about where the day will see her.

That's just my mood lately...I don't feel 'old' in any chronological sense.  Perhaps I've just forgotten what it feels like to be irresponsible every now and then.  I think it'd probably feel pretty nice.

'A Woman Alone'

When she cannot be sure
which of two lovers it was with whom she felt
this or that moment of pleasure, of something fiery
streaking from head to heels, the way the white
flame of a cascade streaks a mountainside
seen from a car across a valley, the car
changing gear, skirting a precipice,
climbing…
When she can sit or walk for hours after a movie
talking earnestly and with bursts of laughter
with friends, without worrying
that it’s late, dinner at midnight, her time
spent without counting the change…
When half her bed is covered with books
and no one is kept awake by the reading light
and she disconnects the
phone, to sleep till noon…
Then
self-pity dries up, a joy
untainted by guilt lifts her.
She has fears, but not about loneliness;
fears about how to deal with the aging
 of her body—how to deal
with photographs and the mirror. She feels
so much younger and more beautiful
than the looks. At her happiest
—or even in the midst of
some less than joyful hour, sweating
patiently through a heatwave in the city
or hearing the sparrows at daybreak, dully gray,
toneless, the sound of fatigue—
a kind of sober euphoria makes her believe
in her future as an old woman, a wanderer
seamed and brown,
little luxuries of the middle of life all gone,
watching cities and rivers, people and mountains,
without being watched; not grim nor sad,
an old winedrinking woman, who knows
the old roads, grass-grown, and laughs to herself…
She knows it can’t be:
that’s Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby from The Water Babies,
no one can walk the world any more,
a world of fumes and decibels.
But she thinks maybe
she could get to be tough and wise, some way,
anyway. Now at least
she is past the time of mourning,
now she can say without shame or deceit,
O blessed Solitude.

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