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Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Morning Poem: When We Look Up

When We Look Up
by Denise Levertov

He had not looked,
pitiful man whom none

pity, whom all
must pity if they look

into their own face (given
only by glass, steel, water
barely known) all
who look up

to see-how many
faces? How many

seen in a lifetime? (Not those that flash by, but those

into which the gaze wanders
and is lost

and returns to tell
Here is a mystery,

a person, an
other, an I?

"When We Look Up" by Denise Levertov, from Poems: 1960-1967, copyright © 1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.


This poem, from a very good poet I recall from my Norton Po-mo anthology, is about empathy: the circular thought pattern we encounter when we face others and try to understand that they are the same as we are, that s/he feels the same feelings, reacts the same ways. But as hard as we try, we are stuck in our own perspective, and ultimately though we may accept the premise that s/he is "another I" it's hard, nay impossible for us to do that without referencing ourselvess, and therefore the other remain as "mystery" (thus the open parentheses?)

But it's not an entirely pessimistic poem, because IMO it celebrates the struggle to reach another person's perspective, (even if ultimately fruitless, always going back to the final "I"), which is ultimately all we can hope to achieve, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

She uses some nice imagery when she talks about reflections--amazing her ability to conjure up strong visuals with so few words.

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