Saturday, August 22, 2020

"It's Snowdon!": The instant in Denise Levertov's "The Instant"

In Denise Levertov's "The Instant", the speaker and her mother go out mushrooming in the morning mist, which hides the sun and their surroundings: "clouds about our knees, tendrils / of clouds in our hair." But then comes the instant when the mist "suddenly" lifts, and the mother exclaims: "It's Snowdon, fifty / miles away!" The sudden visionary moment is a standard moment in poetry, but this instant does not leave the speaker with metaphysical insight but with the physical image and the experience of seeing both in the instant and in unforgettable memory: "Light / graces the mountainhead / for a lifetime's look, before the mist / draws in again." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August)

The Instant

Denise Levertov, Overland to the Islands


'We'll go out before breakfast, and get

some mushrooms,' says my mother.

Early, early: the sun

risen, but hidden in mist


the square house left behind

sleeping, filled with sleepers;


up the dewy hill, quietly, with baskets.


Mushrooms firm, cold;

            tussocks of dark grass, gleam of webs,

turf soft and cropped. Quiet and early. And no valley,


no hills: clouds about our knees, tendrils

of cloud in our hair. Wet scrags

of wool caught in barbed wire, gorse

looming, without scent.

                                    Then ah! suddenly

the lifting of it, the mist rolls

            quickly away, and far, far –


'Look!' she grips me, 'It is


                                    It's Snowdon, fifty

            miles away!' – the voice

a wave rising to Eryri,


            Snowdon, home

of eagles, resting place of

Merlin, core of Wales.



graces the mountainhead

for a lifetime's look, before the mist

            draws in again.

No comments: