In Memory of Denise Levertov, 1923-1997

The poet Denise Levertov was associated with the journal Religion & Intellectual Life from its beginnings. When that publication merged with Cross Currents in 1990, she remained on the Advisory Board of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life. Her spiritual journey is chronicled in her numerous books of poems, and her social conscience was as fierce as her language, fresh and insistent. Although she died a year ago, her voice is as vital as ever. Her passion is as essential now as it was thirty years ago when she wrote so eloquently for peace.

As we thought about a way to commemorate Levertov's passing, we discovered a book of translations from the Bengali that she had completed with Edward C. Dimock, Jr., in 1967. The poems, published as In Praise of Krishna, chronicle the love of Krishna and Radha, which exemplifies the full range of emotion, both physical and spiritual, that unites humans to each other and to the divine. We have selected four that seem to speak of that journey toward the deity, through death, which is like one's approach to the beloved, filled with awe, fear, and excitement.

The poems are elegaic and erotic, an appropriate celebration of one who lived and wrote across all boundaries.

-- The editors

Poems from In Praise of Krishna, by Edward C. Dimock, Jr., and Denise Levertov. Copyright 1967 by The Asia Society, Inc. used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

* * *

Radha goes to meet Krishna
in the trysting place

O Madhava, how shall I tell you of my terror?
I could not describe my coming here
if I had a million tongues.
When I left my room and saw the darkness
I trembled:
I could not see the path,
there were snakes that writhed round my ankles!

I was alone, a woman; the night was so dark,
the forest so dense and gloomy,
and I had so far to go.
The rain was pouring down --
which path should I take?
My feet were muddy
and burning where thorns had scratched them.
But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered,
and now my terror seems far away. . . .
When the sound of your flute reaches my ears
it compels me to leave my home, my friends,
it draws me into the dark toward you.

I no longer count the pain of coming here,
says Govinda-dasa


This dark cloudy night
he'll not come to me. . . .
But yes, he is here!
He stands dripping with rain
in the courtyard. O my heart!

What virtue accrued in
another life has brought me
such bliss? I who
fear my elders and dare not go out to him?
I who torment him? I see

his sorrow and deep love
and I am tormented.
I would set fire to my house
for him, I would bear
the scorn of the world.

He thinks his sorrow is joy,
when I weep he weeps.

When it comes to know such depth of love
the heart of the world will rejoice,
says Chandidasa


When they had made love
she lay in his arms in the kunja grove.
Suddenly she called his name
and wept -- as if she burned in the fire of
The gold was in her anchal
but she looked afar for it!
-- Where has he gone? Where has my love gone?
O why has he left me alone?
And she writhed on the ground in despair,
only her pain kept her from fainting.
Krishna was astonished
and could not speak.

Taking her beloved friend by the hand,
Govinda-dasa led her softly away.


Lord of my heart, what have I dreamed. . . .
How shall I go home, now that daylight has come?
My musk and sandalwood perfumes are faded,
the kohl smudged from my eyes, the vermilion line
drawn in the part of my hair, paled.
O put the ornament
of your own body upon me,
take me with you, down-glancing one.
Dress me in your own yellow robes,
smooth my disheveled hair,
wind round my throat your garland of forest flowers.
Thus, beloved, someone in Gokula entreats.

Basu Ramananda says, Such is your love
that deer and tiger are together in your dwelling place.

Copyright of Cross Currents is the property of Association for Religion & Intellectual Life and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.
Source: Cross Currents, Summer 1998, Vol. 48 Issue 4.