POETRY: Human Being by Denise Levertov

Human Being by Denise Levertov

Human being—walking
in doubt from childhood on: walking

a ledge of slippery stone in the world’s woods
deep-layered with set leaves—rich or sad: on one
side of the path, ecstasy, on the other
dull grief.Walking

the mind’s imperial cities, roofed-over alleys,
thoroughfares, wide boulevards
that hold evening primrose of sky in steady calipers.

Always the mind
walking, working, stopping sometimes to kneel
in awe of beauty, sometimes leaping, filled with the energy
of delight, but never able to pass
the wall, the wall
of brick that crumbles and is replaced,
of twisted iron,
of rock,
the wall that speaks, saying monotonously:

Children and animals
who cannot learn
anything from suffering
suffer, are tortured, die
in incomprehension.

The human being, each night nevertheless
summoning—with a breath blown at a flame,
or hand’s touch
on the lamp-switch—darkness,
silently utters,
impelled as if by a need to cup the palms
and drink from a river,
the words, “Thanks,
Thanks for this day, a day of my life.”
And wonders
Pulls up the blankets, looking
into nowhere, always in doubt.
And takes strange pleasure
in having repeated once more the childish formula,
a pleasure in what is seemly.
And drifts to sleep, downstream
on murmuring currents of doubt and praise,
the wall shadowy, that tomorrow
will cast its own familiar, chill, clear-cut shadow
into the day’s brilliance.

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