Scraps of moon

by Denise Levertov

Original Language English

Scraps of moon
bobbing discarded on broken water
but sky-moon
complete, transcending
all violation
Here she seems to be talking to herself about
the shape of a life:
Only Once

All which, because it was
flame and song and granted us
joy, we thought we'd do, be, revisit,
turns out to have been what it was
that once, only; every invitation
did not begin
a series, a build-up: the marvelous
did not happen in our lives, our stories
are not drab with its absence: but don't
expect to return for more. Whatever more
there will be will be
unique as those were unique. Try
to acknowledge the next
song in its body-halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.

-- from The Great Unknowing: Last Poems, by Denise Levertov

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Isn't that a wonderful opening image Denise Levertov gives us? We see "Scraps of moon / bobbing discarded on broken water" -- an image of the night sky scattered into separate, constantly moving pieces by the moving surface the water. But she follows with the statement, "sky-moon complete, transcending / all violation."

She is building on the meditator's metaphor of the mind being like water reflecting the vision of the heavens. When the mind is agitated, it reflects an image of reality that is fragmented, chaotic, broken into separate objects. But when the mind is brought to a state of serene stillness, it then reflects the wholeness. Even the moon itself is not separate from the sky, but a part of the single continuity that is the sky-moon.

Reality is not composed of separate objects and people. It is an interpenetrating oneness. This is the vision the still mind receives, "transcending / all violation."

And from that starting point, Levertov drops into the awareness that "the shape of life" is "Only Once." Within this wholeness, the present moment is always unique, a profound mystery, and never to be missed. Each glimmering upon the surface of awareness, each experience, each moment is unfolding now -- not in the past, not in the future -- and therefore it is occurring only once. Never repeated.

Somewhere in adolescence we start to mutter that mantra, "Been there, done that," and we put ourselves on auto-pilot. Been there, done that is never true -- not ever. Each experience is new, utterly itself and not from the past or to be repeated in the future. Even when an event occurs a second time, it is not the exact same event, but a new world unto itself.

Denise Levertov's advice comes from a place of deep wisdom:

to acknowledge the next
song in its body-halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.

Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
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Scraps of moon