By Denise Levertov 1923–1997 Denise Levertov

The authentic! Shadows of it
sweep past in dreams, one could say imprecisely,   
evoking the almost-silent   
ripping apart of giant
sheets of cellophane. No.
It thrusts up close. Exactly in dreams
it has you off-guard, you   
recognize it before you have time.
For a second before waking
the alarm bell is a red conical hat, it
takes form.


The authentic! I said
rising from the toilet seat.
The radiator in rhythmic knockings
spoke of the rising steam.   
The authentic, I said
breaking the handle of my hairbrush as I   
brushed my hair in
rhythmic strokes: That’s it,   
that’s joy, it’s always
a recognition, the known   
appearing fully itself, and   
more itself than one knew.


The new day rises
as heat rises,
knocking in the pipes
with rhythms it seizes for its own   
to speak of its invention—
the real, the new-laid
egg whose speckled shell
the poet fondles and must break   
if he will be nourished.


A shadow painted where   
yes, a shadow must fall.   
The cow’s breath
not forgotten in the mist, in the
words. Yes,
verisimilitude draws up   
heat in us, zest
to follow through,
follow through,
transformations of day
in its turning, in its becoming.


Stir the holy grains, set   
the bowls on the table and   
call the child to eat.

While we eat we think,
as we think an undercurrent   
of dream runs through us   
faster than thought
towards recognition.

Call the child to eat,
send him off, his mouth
tasting of toothpaste, to go down   
into the ground, into a roaring train   
and to school.

His cheeks are pink
his black eyes hold his dreams, he has left   
forgetting his glasses.

Follow down the stairs at a clatter   
to give them to him and save   
his clear sight.

Cold air
comes in at the street door.


The authentic! It rolls   
just out of reach, beyond   
running feet and
stretching fingers, down   
the green slope and into   
the black waves of the sea.
Speak to me, little horse, beloved,
tell me
how to follow the iron ball,
how to follow through to the country
beneath the waves
to the place where I must kill you and you step out   
of your bones and flystrewn meat
tall, smiling, renewed,   
formed in your own likeness.


Marvelous Truth, confront us   
at every turn,
in every guise, iron ball,   
egg, dark horse, shadow,
of breath on the air,

in our crowded hearts
our steaming bathrooms, kitchens full of   
things to be done, the
ordinary streets.

Thrust close your smile
that we know you, terrible joy.

Denise Levertov, “Matins” from Poems 1960-1967. Copyright © 1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation,

Source: Poetry (October 1961).


This poem originally appeared in the October 1961 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 1961
 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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