Denise Levertov

(24 October 1923 – 20 December 1997 / Ilford, Essex)

Ikon: The Harrowing Of Hell - Poem by Denise Levertov

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.


Comments about Ikon: The Harrowing Of Hell by Denise Levertov

  • Susan Williams (12/22/2015 2:42:00 PM)


    This is the long dark day in which Jesus, having been crucified, descends to the dead in Hell to call them up to Heaven. The Bible doesn't give any details about how this took place but Levertov gives it a powerful try using powerful, elemental images about death and life, of spirit and flesh. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: sunset, fish, food, joy, world, home, death, fishing, friend



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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