A Time Past

By Denise Levertov 1923–1997 Denise Levertov
The old wooden steps to the front door   
where I was sitting that fall morning   
when you came downstairs, just awake,   
and my joy at sight of you (emerging   
into golden day—
                         the dew almost frost)
pulled me to my feet to tell you   
how much I loved you:

those wooden steps
are gone now, decayed
replaced with granite,
hard, gray, and handsome.   
The old steps live
only in me:
my feet and thighs
remember them, and my hands   
still feel their splinters.

Everything else about and around that house
brings memories of others—of marriage,
of my son. And the steps do too: I recall
sitting there with my friend and her little son who died,   
or was it the second one who lives and thrives?
And sitting there ‘in my life,’ often, alone or with my husband.
Yet that one instant,
your cheerful, unafraid, youthful, ‘I love you too,’   
the quiet broken by no bird, no cricket, gold leaves   
spinning in silence down without
any breeze to blow them,
                                    is what twines itself
in my head and body across those slabs of wood   
that were warm, ancient, and now
wait somewhere to be burnt.

Denise Levertov, “A Time Past” from The Freeing of the Dust. Copyright © 1975 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: The Freeing of the Dust (1975)

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Poet Denise Levertov 1923–1997

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Denise  Levertov


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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SUBJECT Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Living, Relationships

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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