The Rav
of Northern White Russia declined,
in his youth, to learn the
language of birds, because
the extraneous did not interest him; nevertheless
when he grew old it was found
he understood them anyway, having
listened well, and as it is said, ‘prayed
with the bench and the floor.’ He used
what was at hand–as did
Angel Jones of Mold, whose meditations
were sewn into coats and britches.
Well, I would like to make,
thinking some line still taut between me and them,
poems direct as what the birds said,
hard as a floor, sound as a bench,
mysterious as the silence when the tailor
would pause with his needle in the air.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Denise Levertov's poem Illustrious Ancestors

1 Comment

  1. Marilyn Rea Beyer says:

    As a 3rd generation immigrant of a family of carpenters and tailors from Prague (on my mother’s side) this poem rang like a bell in my head the first time I encountered it in the late 1970’s. “Solid as a bench” is such a visceral image to anyone who has worked with wood. Levertov is so direct in this poem, none of the vaguely mysterious symbolism that enchants us. Nevertheless, the pull of family history makes this piece enchanting in its own right. The mystery of those whom we can never know and yet carry in us is powerful, and Levertov succeeds mightily in expressing that power.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Denise Levertov better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.