Levertov’s Art of Transition

In her poem “To Live in the Mercy of God” Denise Levertov shows how poetry gives life to phrases like “the mercy of God.” In one aspect religious, the phrase may seem cut into stone. But in the poem, it joins language in its vulnerability to context and its openness to new meaning. This fluid relativity can be studied at transitions where we see apt intuitional links that sleep in the daily language.


To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

                  waterfall flinging itself

                 unabating down and down

                          to clenched fists of rock.

The poem displays the vibrating waterfall in the old religious phrase.

The poet’s intentions are and are not obvious. It’s obvious she knows what she’s doing. It’s not obvious what she means.

She is a maker: this happens on the page.

She is a human: this is scandalous. How does she prepare us for those clenched fists of rock? Does she intend to shock and dismay us? Is she “just” being true in the only way she, as poet, can be true: to the potentialities of these specific words to make sense for her?