April 27: Peter Davison's "The Level Path"

In the foreword to his final collection, Breathing Room, Peter Davison (1928-2004) wrote about his desire to write poems that could “evoke a mood, a scene, an enimga, the unfolding of a metaphor, the entrapment of an idea, in a space or shape that will contain it without killing it.” “The Level Path,” the penultimate poem in the book, presents us with a vivid instance of such unfolding and entrapment—in this case, the inability to turn back from beauty and where it may lead us.

The Level Path

Descend here along a shower of
             shallow steps past the potting shed with
                           its half-rotted ironbound door

to reach the level path. It winds
             northward, high hat, girdling
                           the waist of a limestone cliff

beyond earshot of the clamorous village below. The
             squeezed access bears us vaguely along
                           shifting digressions of the compass, past

eye-level seductions of violet, periwinkle, primrose, and petals
             like lisping yellow butterflies. Naked limbs
                           of beech, haggard liftings of pine,

a hairy upthrust of cedar beside a
             curving stone bench, all hint at eruptions
                           into Eros. Yet another seat displays

a cushion of undisturbed luxuriant moss around its clefts and
             edges. Thick harsh leaves
                           of holly, ivy, even of palmetto

thrust up, pathside, between tender new petals,
             while other friendly shrubs reach down
                           from overhead to fondle our faces.

There is no escape from the dreadful beauty of
             this narrow path. It leads nowhere
                           except to itself and
                           the black water below.

Learn more about Breathing Room by Peter Davison

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