Prisoners

By Denise Levertov 1923–1997 Denise Levertov
Though the road turn at last   
to death’s ordinary door,   
and we knock there, ready   
to enter and it opens
easily for us,
                     yet
all the long journey
we shall have gone in chains,   
fed on knowledge-apples   
acrid and riddled with grubs.

We taste other food that life,   
like a charitable farm-girl,   
holds out to us as we pass—
but our mouths are puckered,   
a taint of ash on the tongue.

It’s not joy that we’ve lost—
wildfire, it flares
in dark or shine as it will.
What’s gone
is common happiness,
plain bread we could eat
with the old apple of knowledge.

That old one—it griped us sometimes,   
but it was firm, tart,   
sometimes delectable ...

The ashen apple of these days
grew from poisoned soil. We are prisoners   
and must eat
our ration. All the long road
in chains, even if, after all,
we come to
death’s ordinary door, with time
smiling its ordinary
long-ago smile.

Denise Levertov, “Prisoners” from Oblique Prayers. Copyright © 1984 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: Oblique Prayers (Bloodaxe Books, 1984)

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Poet Denise Levertov 1923–1997

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Death, Living, Growing Old

Occasions Funerals

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Denise  Levertov

Biography

During the course of a prolific career, Denise Levertov created a highly regarded body of poetry that reflects her beliefs as an artist and a humanist. Her work embraces a wide variety of genres and themes, including nature lyrics, love poems, protest poetry, and poetry inspired by her faith in God. "Dignity, reverence, and strength are words that come to mind as one gropes to characterize . . . one of America's most respected . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Death, Living, Growing Old

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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