Looking, Walking, Being

by Denise Levertov


Original Language English

"The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in."
-- Mark Rudman


I look and look.
Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That's
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
looking,
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

-- from Poems: 1960-1967, by Denise Levertov

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Okay, let's start off with those wonderful lines:

Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.


This poem is a response to the Mark Rudman quote, "The World is not something to / look at, it is something to be in." Denise Levertov answers that looking IS being.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch...


I suspect that Rudman was discouraging passivity and lack of presence, but Levertov, I think, is getting at something deeper still. Humans, all beings, in fact, are fundamentally beings of awareness. Each individual is a point of perception, a viewpoint in the universe. We are, each of us, "a pair of eyes walking."

We are present through perception, not action. Yes, action and interaction can be a powerful way to force us to pay attention, but it is also common to use action to shut down the awareness. Whether in movement or in stillness, the real goal is to keep the eyes open and feel fully with the heart and with the gut. We want to do more than look, but to see, see deeply, to see what is ignored and glossed over, to "dig and burrow in the world."

Even in complete stillness, truly seeing is one of the most profound actions we can engage in. I've seen people brought to tears by a gentle gaze in the eyes. This is what the soul craves, to be seen, to be recognized, to be truly acknowledged. This is true not just of the human soul, but of the world soul. I think of this when Denise Levertov writes of how the world "looks at one looking."

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That's
a way of breathing.


We forget that language is built of breath. We see the written word and we read it silently. Words become mental concepts, tools of the intellect. But words are not fundamentally discrete units of meaning. They flow and stop and flow again, as the breath does. Words aren't inherently meaningful; they are the ornaments that accompany the flow of awareness.

Words affect breath. Thoughts affect breath. Breath guides awareness.

...breathing to sustain
looking...


Breath, too, is communion. Through the breath, we bring the outside world inside us, inside the body, inside the awareness. The boundary between self and the world is bridged by the breath. Through breath, we touch, we feel, we internalize, we connect, we participate, we come alive. Through breath we move and we see.

...walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.



Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
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Looking, Walking, Being