Beauty is an act of resistance. Ruth Naomi Floyd

Denise Levertov & Ernst Barlach

Denise Levertov: On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus (poem)


Ernst Barlach: The Reunion of Christ and Thomas (sculpture)

On Belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus

by Denise Levertov

It is for all
'literalists of the imagination,'
poets or not,
that miracle
is possible and essential.
Are some intricate minds
nourished on concept,
as epiphytes flourish
high in the canopy?
Can they
subsist on the light,
on the half
of metaphor that's not
grounded in dust, grit,
carnal clay?
Do signs contain and utter,
for them
all the reality
that they need? Resurrection, for them,
an internal power, but not
a matter of flesh?
For the others,
of whom I am one,
miracles (ultimate need, bread
of life,) are miracles just because
people so tuned
to the humdrum laws:
gravity, mortality-
can't open
to symbol's power
unless convinced of its ground,
its roots
in bone and blood.
We must feel
the pulse in the wound
to believe
that 'with God
all things
are possible,'
bread at Emmaus
that warm hands
broke and blessed.


Ernst Barlach: The Reunion, 1926, sapele mahogany, 90 x 38 x 25 cm. Ernst Barlach Haus, Hamburg.

Denise Levertov was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. Her father, who had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. She moved to the United States in 1948, and in 1955 became an American citizen. By the time she died in 1997, Levertov had published nearly fifty volumes of poetry, prose, and translations. Levertov taught at Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, Stanford, and the University of Washington. It was at Stanford, where she taught for 11 years (1982–1993) in the Stegner Fellowship program, and where her papers are now housed, that Levertov converted to Christianity at the age of sixty. After moving to Seattle in 1989, she joined the Catholic Church. 

Ernst Barlach (1870–1938) was a German sculptor. He came from a Lutheran home and later in life he found his inspiration in Christian mysticism. Barlach’s path to expressionism led through the academic traditions of the 19th century and the creative ideas of naturalism, symbolism and art nouveau. A journey to Russia in 1906 gave him the decisive motivation for a radical simplification of his visual imagery. Through the reduced outer appearance of his figures Barlach sought to comprehend elemental inner states. Barlach’s attempts to create timelessly valid statements about the nature of human existence did not prevent him from taking a critical angle on the present – his art reflects social hardship and defies bourgeois conventions. With the rise of Nazism in Germany his work along with that of Käthe Kollwitz and others was considered ‘degenerate’. and