Monday, December 18, 2006

Advent 16: Annunciation by Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc

We know the scene:
the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book;
always the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador,
standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience.
No one mentions courage.

The engendering Spirit did not
enter her without consent.

God waited. She was free to accept or to refuse,
choice integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from in dread,
in a wave of weakness,
in despair and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate,
slept like any other child –
but unlike others, wept only for pity,
laughed in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence fused in her,
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,

only asked a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb Infinite weight and lightness;
to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity;
to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power –
in narrow flesh, the sum of light.

Then bring to birth, push out into air,
a Man-child needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,


She did not cry, "I cannot,
I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.

courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Cynthia said...

I am completely covered in gooseflesh, stunned and agape. How perfect. (And part of me is thinking why should I ever write again.)

Paul said...

I guess Mary was given a lot more choice then Leda, then.

Gannet Girl said...

Which is the point, as you know.

And besides, the Trojan War is a slightly different outcome.

Although I suppose one could draw parallels.

Sigh. I am just going to be grateful that you generally exercise restraint in your scorn of all things Christian, at least in the vicinity of my blog.

Paul said...

Scorn? No scorn. Just noting some parallels between Levertov and Yeats. The wings and the word "engender" are hard to ignore.

Heck, I've got "Mary's Boy-child" playing over at my place. It's all good. Festivus for the rest of us.

Laura said...

That was beautiful, thanks for sharing.

Gannet Girl said...

Paul, I would be really surprised if Levertov had not had the Yeats poem in mind.

Lisa :-] said...

My brain is fried, and I wish I could come up with something clever or intelligent-sounding to write...

I had never really given much thought to Mary's opportunity to refuse honor/burden/blessing offered her...

Magdalene6127 said...

Amazing indeed Gannet Girl... thanks for saying "Hey"!

I have been reading your blog... what a feast for the eyes and the spirit. I have you bookmarked; thank you for the art, reflections, all of it.



Kathryn said...

You are helping to keep me on track this Advent. I feel calm. Everyday, I contemplate the spiritual side of the season. This poem is a very interesting perspective. Thank you!