Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Denise Levertov: "Variation on a Theme by Rilke"

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day's blow
rang out, metallic—or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

"Variation on a Theme by Rilke" by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water. © New Directions Publishing, 1987.

Photograph: Detail of "The Accolade," oil on canvas painting by Edmund Blair-Leighton (originally color).


  1. Thinking of one's self as a bell waiting or ready to be rung--beautiful. All that potential and resonance.

  2. What is meant by "a theme by Rilke?"

    1. She is referencing a theme which is in the first stanza of the first poem of the first part of Rilke's BOOK OF HOURS. I believe the untitled poem begins "The hour is striking so close above me."

  3. Thank you! Somehow I had missed the Feb 2 poem


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