Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The second-generation immigrant becomes a migrant herself: Denise Levertov's "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England"

Denise Levertov's "A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England" positions the poet's birth between her ancestors' migration to Britain and her own migration to the United States in 1948, at 25. The geography of her childhood returns on her seeing the titular map, but as she remembers the towns and landscapes of that country from the her new American perspective, she considers how her migrant ancestors must have looked back on their origins from the very landscape she left behind. A second-generation immigrant becomes an migrant herself and then, "in a far country / remembers the first river, [...] the first light" of her origins. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 November)


A Map Of The Western Part Of The County Of Essex In England

Denise Levertov, "The Jacob's Ladder" (1961)


Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers

and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,

and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a

stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,

I am Essex-born:

Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,

the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,

Roding held my head above water when I thought it was

drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees

stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,

the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.

Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,

Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots

sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,

Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,

in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,

through its trees the ghost of a great house. In

Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the

light of flaring sundown, seven kings

in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings

the place of law

where my birth and marriage are recorded

and the death of my father. Woodford Wells

where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white

statue forlorn in its garden)

saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,

(forgotten? and further away

the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once

but many times?).

All the Ivans dreaming of their villages

all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,

picking up fragments of New World slowly,

not knowing how to put them together nor how to join

image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map

made long before I was born shows ancient

rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire

for the world's great splendors, a child who traced voyages

indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country

remembers the first river, the first

field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,

that new smell, and remembers

the walls of the garden, the first light.

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