Sunday, April 25, 2021

How "breathing out / poems" turns them into "a mask I had not meant / to wear": Denise Levertov's "A Cloak"

The speaker in Denise Levertov's "A Cloak" once felt like she was "breathing out / poems, // arrogant in innocence." But the straightforward simplicity of poems emerging like breath is complicated by what happens when she makes them public, for they become "a cloak" that is "frozen" around the poet and conceals her: "A mask I had not meant / to wear, as if of frost, / covers my face." Even if she experiences them as "breath" that directly reveals her arrogant, innocent self, the poems "breathed" into the world take on meaning beyond her control and even make it seem as if she were trying to conceal herself behind them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 April 2021)


A Cloak

Denise Levertov, Relearning the Alphabet


'For there's more enterprise

in walking naked.'

W. B. Yeats


And I walked naked

from the beginning


breathing in

my life,

breathing out



arrogant in innocence.


But of the song-clouds my breath made

in cold air


a cloak has grown,

white and,

where here a word

there another

froze, glittering,



A mask I had not meant

to wear, as if of frost,

covers my face.

Eyes looking out,

a longing silent at song's core.


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