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Sabbath Day

December 28, 2012

Today was set aside for dissertating. I holed up in my office, pretending not to be there. I had my new computer, plenty of books, and a bottomless pot of coffee: a typical day of despair as I returned to long neglected notes.

What slowed me down was not only a distracted mind but the need to answer phones, plan a memorial service, make some wedding plans, arrange music for worship, visit the hospital and attend to facebook. (Noelle published on op-ed today about the Westchester County Budget, a powerful piece I was proud to circulate.) But I emerged at dinner time, I think, with a rough plan for my next chapter and a couple pages of outline.

I finished the day with wonderful family time – facetime with my sister and nephew, Lego game night (a Christmas present), lots of laughter, swimming lessons in the bathtub… I then introduced August to Beowulf, and we read The Hobbit in bed.

With my last hour before bed I am cracking open a new biography, Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life, by Dana Greene. This is hot off the presses by University of Illinois. I am already engrossed by the story of Denise’s parents (father a convert from Judaism and a pastor; mother a child of the manse, early orphaned, adopted into another pastor’s household) and of her sister, Olga. As the first chapter is drawing to a close, I am struck by how often hospital work is formative of a poetic sensibility. About her time as a nurse in 1942, for which she had “neither talent nor inclination,” Dana Greene writes “She recalled her experience of looking earnestly into the faces of those who were dying. It was there she learned that the “music . . . had stopped, and left / a heavy thick silence it its place.”


For Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Tillich, and most of the best pastors I know, hospital work was formative and transformative. It was the part of theological training I most dreaded and subsequently most valued.

Poetry is such a source of inspiration for me, and Denise has long been a favorite of mine. I am looking forward to months of being re-aquainted with her poems through this biography.

The Secret

by Denise Levertov

Two girls discover

the secret of life

in a sudden line of



I who don’t know the

secret wrote

the line. They

told me


(through a third person)

they had found it

but not what it was

not even


what line it was. No doubt

by now, more than a week

later, they have forgotten

the secret,


the line, the name of

the poem. I love them

for finding what

I can’t find,


and for loving me

for the line I wrote,

and for forgetting it

so that


a thousand times, till death

finds them, they may

discover it again, in other



in other

happenings. And for

wanting to know it,



assuming there is

such a secret, yes,

for that

most of all.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 28, 2012 10:37 am

    Sounds like a VERY productive day, with even some Sabbath blessings.

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