Variation On A Theme By Rilke

by Denise Levertov

Original Language English

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

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.

-- from Breathing the Water, by Denise Levertov

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/ Image by Janne Hellsten /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Isn't this a wonderful poem?

The Rilke verse referenced is--

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there's a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

(translation by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)

To be touched on the shoulder with the flat of a sword, rather than the cutting edge, is to be symbolically struck as part of the traditional knighting ceremony. perhaps accompanied by a task or quest. This is such a fascinating way to describe how the day itself can touch us, strike us in such a way that we become instantly present, aware, alive. That blow of sudden awareness ennobles us and opens us to new possibilities.

We resonate with the touch. A ringing bell perfectly marks the moment. The sound penetrates our thoughts, yet it carries silence in its wake. We become aware of the space between things, the quiet between our thoughts, inducing stillness and presence, while echoing out to touch all the world. Our whole self begins to sing.

Today, as every day, is a perfect day to ring out like a bell awakened...

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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