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Breathing the Water

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Arranged in seven parts and culminating in the superb "The Showings: Lady Julian of Norwich," Breathing the Water draws the readers deep into spiritual domains––not in order to leave the world behind, but to reanimate our sometimes dormant love for it. ...more
Paperback, 100 pages
Published March 17th 1987 by New Directions
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 ·  249 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"There will never be that stillness.
Within the pulse of flesh,
in the dust of being, where we trudge
turning our hungry gaze this way and that,
the wings of the morning
brush through our blood
as cloud-shadows brush the land.
What we desire travels with us.
We must breathe time as fishes breathe water.
God's flight circles us."
Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the first collection of Levertov's poems that I read, I was struck by her anger and sadness over the Vietnam war, as well as the attention to the natural world I had expected. In "Breathing the Water," her talent for observation of the world around her is again on display, with that focus turned to not just nature but also painting, daily life, photography and literature. But what surprised me this time was her sincere and intelligent exploration of religious themes. She shows me a model for ...more
Apr 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this little book because the title intrigued me. This is the first book of poetry I purchased by Ms. Levertov and I fell instantly in love with the depth, beauty and soulfulness of the poems.

I highly recommend that you read it and even memorize some of the beautiful poems.

This is my favorite:


A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me--a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it lean
Dec 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The Well

At sixteen I believed the moonlight
could change me if it would.
I moved my head
on the pillow, even moved my bed
as the moon slowly
crossed the open lattice.

I wanted beauty, a dangerous
gleam of steel, my body thinner,
my pale face paler.
I moonbathed
diligently, as others sunbathe.
But the moon's unsmiling stare
kept me awake. Mornings,
I was flushed and cross.

It was on dark nights of deep sleep
that I dreamed the most, sunk in the well,
and woke rested, and if not beautiful,
filled with some othe
Matthew Mousseau
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me - a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honour and a task. The day's blow
rang out, metallic - or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can
- Variation on a Theme by Rilke, pg. 3

* * *

Uninterpreted, the days
are falling.

The spring wind
is shaking and shaki
Emily Crow
Aug 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2021
A lot of great poems in this collection. Some of my favorites:

Hunting the Phoenix
A Doorkey for Cordova
The Absentee
To One Steeped in Bitterness
Urgent Whisper

And this from “Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke”:

“What we desire travels with us.
We must breathe time as fishes breathe water.
God’s flight circles us.”

Kris Lundgaard
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Enjoyable, but I read it too quickly to savor it.
Manuel Correa
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poes-a
Gran poeta en cuanto a la enunciación de una relación con Dios, el arte, la Biblia y una experiencia personal con Él. Hace varios años, estando en Atlanta Ga., escogí este libro para un regalo; la autora aún estaba viva y ofrecía en ese tiempo un taller de poesía. Es un placer releerlo y encontrarse con la verdad poética que exalta a Dios de una manera especial.
Jamie Dougherty
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
She does it all!

Hunting the Phoenix
The Spy
Missing Beatrice
Every Day
During a Son's Dangerous Illness
Making Peace
'the myriad past...'
On a Theme from Julian's Chapter XX
Variation on a Theme by Rilke (The Book of Hours, Book 1, Poem 4)
La Cordelle
The Showings, 1-6
Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke (The Book of Hours, Book 1, Poem 7)
Nov 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've loved Denise Levertov's poetry ever since I dressed up as her for an English project in high school and staged a mock protest in front of the administration building. Breathing the Water goes everywhere with me, from apartment to apartment and school to school. It's moved across the country to Massachusetts and come back home again. We are inseparable, this book and I. ...more
Krista Stevens
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, religious
Liked section VII the best - more religious/Lenten poems here. Especially liked "Making Peace"
and the phrase "desolation of survival" from "During a Son's Dangerous Illness".
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection was hit and miss for me. The hits were great.
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is another I've been working on slowly; this one since last Christmas. I love it. I will revisit it often. Levertov is spiritual in all the most helpful ways. ...more
Scott Graham
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Smart, beautiful, and filled with (Christian)faith, but not sentimental. This collection is worth the price simply for her set of poems on Julian of Norwich's mystic classic 'Showings'. ...more
4 1/2* I am floored. Elements of Romanticism and Spirituality
Combined with
Awareness of limitations--physical, social, spiritual
The references to art
The references aspects of Earth.
The Christian/Catholic imagery
The awe of what is, however rough hewn.
The pondering upon Lady Julian of Norwich/Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416)
The pondering upon the Mystery shown Juliana in a trance--the hazelnut as Creation.

The only thing--and it is a deal breaker, lowering rating to 4*--is the reader not discovering
Michael Cayley
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
There is no doubting Denise Levertov’s passionate engagement with her subject matter. Nor her ability to write extremely striking and memorable lines, like

“And dustmote congregations file
endlessly through slanted amethyst.”

Many of the poems in this book have a religious dimension. Some are inspired by Julian of Norwich. For me the best are ones that tackle their theme a little indirectly. I felt in some of them the theme was tackled too head-on, and the result was a little prosaic. But Levertov’
kath Topley
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I purchased 'breathing the water' completely at random from the poetry section in a Preloved and antique bookshop. I have 10+ pages marked for me to go back and read over and over again. I don't think I've ever resonated with so many poems written by one person before. Denise Levertov truly was talented , her words are pure magic. I'm on the hunt for more of her books! ...more
Bruce Rogie
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some reviews compared it to classic Bangkok noir, but this one nowhere as dark as John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep series and thus in my opinion not quite on par. Not really a 4 star but I really can't limit it to a 3 star as Hallinan's affection for Thailand clearly comes through. ...more
Mar 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021, poetry
Breath-taking and thought-provoking, as always.
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Really lovely. I am liking Levertov more and more. The Julian poems are a wonderful follow-up to reading the Showings.
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Goodness was / a fever in you.
Phillip Goodman
god (or some such person) bless bloodaxe books! the put out book after book of not just incredible modern poetry but also incredibly well bound modern poetry,it all makes it that much more of a joy to read and i only stop this spiel (literally speech, i'm not suggesting i'm talking bull excrement) now so that i can go back to reading it!
Denise levertov is a master (or perhaps that should be mistress though of course that would imply something entirely different) of language, form, structure, an
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I read this for the first time in 1991 or 1992, as part of a high school poetry class. The project we did must have been hilarious. I believe there was walking into and out of a spot light to signify the conscious and the unconscious mind.

I promise you in 1991 or 1992, I had no idea what this book was about. I still have some doubts, but I do know that this is a book of faith, in all its forms, and for the dear one I was at 17 and for the dear poems, I maintain my faith in Levertov.
Jerry Landry
Jun 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Levertov’s collection of poems explores the connections between the spiritual and the everyday through vivid images and powerful words. Particular favorites of mine were “Making Peace” and “Girls.” If you’re looking for a solid book of poetry, then I would highly recommend this collection. Truly, it’s worth a second or third read in order to truly get all of the references made and ideas contained within her poetic lines.
May 20, 2015 rated it liked it
There were two absolutely fantastic poems in here; the others, not so much. Her rhythm is always a little off for me, or her imagery slightly unclear. Maybe that's what she was aiming for. Either way, really close to being the type of poetry I love but not quite my style. ...more
Jan 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: british, poetry
A nice little volume, with a few breath-stopping moments of surprise, but also a few places where I lost focus. I liked Levertov's use of source material from history, mythology, and other poets as a jumping-off place for her own poetry. ...more
Tammy Marie Jacintho
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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Elizabeth McCulloch
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Apr 08, 2019
Lou Mills
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Denise Levertov was born in Ilford, Essex, England. Her mother, Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff, was Welsh. Her father, Paul Levertoff, immigrated to England from Germany, was a Russian Hassidic Jew who, after converting to Christianity, became an Anglican parson. At the age of 12, she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. In 1940, when she wa ...more

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