Secular (yet quite spiritual) text by Denise
Difficulty level (1-5): 2.5
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Living is a beautiful little gem of a poem by Denise Levertov.
Levertov's poetry ranges far and wide -- she was known for her
anti-war poems and poems about other social issues, her secular
poetry, and in her later years, poetry which verged on the
In fact, this particular little poem almost seems to me to be a
modern-day relative of a poem,
My Life is an Instant, written centuries ago bySaint Thérèse of
Lisieux which I set in the six movement piece
This Sparkle of the Day.
I have included it here below the Levertov text for anyone
interested in comparing the two.
The musical setting is straightforward, and I use the piano
ostinato as a symbol of the life activities that Levertov is
observing. Ostinato figures are interesting, they immediately
convey motion and activity (...
the fire in leaf and grass...), yet by repeating them
over and over again, they eventually become a static object (...a
red salamander so cold and so easy to catch...")!
Complete perusal score available upon request.
by Denise Levertov
The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.
The wind blowing the leaves
shivering in the sun
each day the last day.
A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily
moves his delicate feet,
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go
each moment the last moment.
My Life is an Instant
My life is an instant,
a fleeting hour.
My life is a moment,
which swiftly escapes me.
O my God, you know that
on earth I have only today
to love you.
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux