Denise Levertov

In Memory of Boris Pasternak

The day before he died, a burnet moth
come to town perhaps on a load of greens,
took me half an hour out of my way, or what
I’d thought was my way.        It lay bemused
on the third step down of the subway entrance.
I took it up—it scarcely fluttered. Where
should I take it for safety,
away from hasty feet and rough hands?
We went through the hot streets together,
it lay trustingly in my hand,
awkwardly I shielded it from the dusty
wind, a glitter of brine
hovered about the cement vistas.
At last I found
a scrap of green garden
to hide the stranger, and silently took leave.

Not his soul—
I knew that dwelled always on Russian earth
—yet it was spoken in me
that the dark, narrow-winged, richly
crimson-signed being, an
apparition at the steps to the underworld,
whose need took me upwards again and further than
I had thought to walk, was a word,
an emanation from him, fulfilling
what he had written—‘I feel
that we shall be friends.’

Seen through what seem
his eyes (his gift) the gray barn
and the road into the forest.
the snipe’s dead young I am burying among
wild-strawberry leaves, all
lifts itself, poises itself to speak:

and the dead soul
struggles, strains forward, to lip-read what it needs:
and something is said, quickly,
in words of cloud-shadows moving and
the unmoving turn of the road, something
not quite caught, but filtered
through some outpost of dreaming sense
the gist, the drift. I remember
a dream two nights ago: the voice,
‘the artist must
create himself or be born again.’