This week we are with the poetry of Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Romans 5:1-11

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (3b-5)

More thoughts for meditation


Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
…..hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river 
…..winds somewhere to the sea -”

But we have only begun 
to love the earth.

We have only begun
to imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
–so much is in the bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet – 
there is too much broken 
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of the struggle.

So much is unfolding that must 
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

This poem is in response to a poem written by Algernon Charles Swineburne in 1866, called the Garden of Porserpine in which Swineburne seems to welcome the nonexistence of death as an abstract counterbalance to the wearisome losing that comes with living and loving the beauty of life. Porserpine is a character from mythology who spends half the year on earth and half the year with her husband, Pluto, in the underworld among the dead. Her presence on Earth brings the life of spring and summer and, according to Swineburne (and maybe Elvis Costello) all this useless beauty. 

Don’t we need a response to this kind of never fading fatalism? Here in 2020, more than 40 years since Levertov wrote this poem and more than 150 years since Swineburne wrote his, don’t we need a hopeful response to the hopelessness that comes all too easily? Levertov looks brokenness and hurt in the face and hopes right at them. The absence of what could be is a source of hope for what is to come. Resignation is easy, and completely understandable. But if we have seen the beginning of something does not our longing for how it ends bring something more powerful than the grim face of death?

Karen Silkwood, one of the people to whom this poem is dedicated, was a whistleblower in Oklahoma. She was a chemical technician and labor union activist known for raising concerns about corporate practices related to health and safety in a nuclear facility. She died “under mysterious circumstances” in 1974. Shall we be crushed when the powers crush us? Shall we bravely accept our fate and the nature of things in Pluto’s frigid halls? Or shall we “join our solitudes in the communion of struggle”? There is something in the “we’s” and “our’s” of this poem that firm me up from my despair. The defiance of hope is a communal project. Hope is what WE do. Hope is something that is OURS.  

Suggestions for action

Spend some time continuing to imagine the fullness of life. What has begun – in you, in the world, in your relationships or in someone you love? What do you see unfolding that must (it just must) not end (not yet, not yet)? Write down the beginnings of things and imagine where they might go. Our map draft is one place to look. God’s love has been poured out into our hearts, where might THAT river flow next?