"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taste & See

The Garden of the Hesperides
painting by Lord Frederick Leighton (1830 - 96)

O Taste and See
by Denise Levertov (1923 - 1997)
British-born American Poet

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

I never thought much about this particular Psalm until I read Levertov's poem about the "subway Bible poster." (Or Bible button, as seen above!) Nor was Wordsworth's sonnet among my favorites. I could agree with Wordsworth that the demeaning daily barter of the soul is too much with us, displacing Nature and threatening our sense of belonging to each other, to the Earth. But Proteus? Triton? Odd choices! As much as I love Greek mythology, I'm afraid these two gods don't speak to my heart any more than the the commercial world of getting and spending. Shops or the Sea? Was that the choice?

The World Is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon
by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
English Romantic Poet

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Levertov's poem, however, caused me to take another look at Wordsworth's sonnet. I like the way she contradicts his opening line while asserting essentially the same observation. The world is too much with us? The world is not with us enough? Which is it? It's both. The busywork world is too much with us; the sensuous world is not with us enough, even though it is right in front of us for the taking, in plain sight, within our grasp.

We are separated from Nature: "tangerine, weather . . . plum, quince." And also from Imagination: "grief, mercy, language." But we needn't be. We can open our senses, take the time to taste and see, cross that busy street, visit the orchard, retrieve our hearts. Wordsworth striking diction -- "a sordid boon" -- vividly conveys what a bad bargain it is to live out of touch with Nature, out of synch with the moon; and Levertov suggests an alternative version of communion and Paradise: "living in the orchard and being hungry and plucking the fruit." It seems so straightforward, yet we have so often been warned against it that we must retrain our senses in order to embrace the world enough.

Levertov's way of being in the garden and her list of verbs -- "To breathe them, "bite, savor, chew, swallow, transform" -- seem to exemplify what Terry Tempest Williams calls a "faith of verbs":

"This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, argue, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek. To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers."
Terry Tempest Williams (b 1955)
American author, naturalist and environmentalist

Paintings Above: The Garden of the Hesperides is the Goddess Hera's orchard, in the distant western corner of the mythical world, where was said to grow a grove of immortality-giving golden apple trees, with golden leaves, golden branches, and golden apples. The apples had been planted from the fruited branches that the Great Earth Mother Gaia gave as a wedding gift to Hera and Zeus.

As the blissful garden is near Mt. Atlas, it is the three daughters of Atlas, also called "The Hesperides" who receive the task of tending to the primary tree in the blissful grove. As an additional safeguard, and perhaps to prevent the nymphs from plucking gold apples for themselves, Hera also placed in the garden a serpent-like dragon named Ladon who twines about the tree and never sleeps.

The beautiful Hesperides -- sometimes referred to as The Western Maidens, The Daughters of Evening, or The Daughters of Night -- also serve as the Goddesses of Evening and the Golden Light of Sunset.

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, April 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Take a look at
my running list of recent reading


  1. Oh Kite, This is one of your best! Denise Levertov has been my idol since I was 18 and Wordsworth sonnet is just perfect. What perfection in these two poems! Poetry, the food of fools like us...
    Your writing is supberb and You need to think out of this box! Magazines, zines, a book! Let's go you great writer you!

  2. um, I should also edit before I hit send!