4 elements. Set of four beautiful backgrounds. Raster version. Vector is also available in my gallery

Grace Episcopal Church 


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Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
  Relieve the troubles of my heart,
    and bring me out of my distress.

Psalm 25: 16-17

Welcome to Reading Poetry Theologically ! This summer study, adapted from and inspired by the eponymous class I took at Yale Divinity School last fall, will focus on the poetry of faithful writers, who will hopefully inspire us to connect with God in new ways. Are these modern-day Psalmists, or writing in that tradition? You decide!


Class #5

Denise Levertov

What a wonderful foray into interfaith poetry we had last week. Thank you for your enthusiasm and close, insightful reading! As I said before, you all have greatly impressed me with your faithful attentiveness to these poems. Keep engaging these poems; keep listening with the ear of your heart. 
This week we will be devoting our attention to the work of Denise Levertov, a Catholic poet who wrote in an organic, free-form verse. The poems I have selected are “The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Velazquez)” and “St. Thomas Didymus.” 
“The Servant-Girl at Emmaus” is an  ekphrastic poem , or a poem which describes and expands upon a scene or work of art. Think of it like an  Ignatian Imaginative Prayer , the form of prayer in which you imagine yourself in a Biblical scene and notice what you can hear, see, taste, and touch. Levertov is doing just that—imagining encounters with Christ through the lens of Biblical witnesses—in these poems. Take a look at the  painting which inspired this poem, and note the interplay between these two works of art.
If you have time, I encourage you to read the supplemental articles in order to deepen your understanding of Levertov’s work. But most importantly, I would love for you to print these poems so that you can mark them up with a pencil or pen. Post them in a place you can see them. Sit with them throughout the week. If a particular line or phrase jumps out at you, whisper it as a prayer to God. Memorize a line (or the full poem!) and step into its hidden rhythms.

(Please let Maria know ASAP if you need these materials printed and mailed to you on a weekly basis!)


We’ll be looking at some of what Levertov does through her poetic choices. Take a look at this guide on reading poetry as you dive into these poems. The questions will help you make sense of what is going on at a literal, metaphorical, and theological level.

As always, I would encourage you to pick a line or phrase that sticks out to you and journal about it. Some guiding questions: 

  • Lord, what (if anything) are you trying to tell me in this word or phrase that nudges me so? 
  • Where are you in this poem for me? 
  • What might you be telling me or wanting me to realize?


Here are some great articles to help get you acquainted with Levertov’s imagination and faith:

Read Levertov's Some Notes on Organic Form.

Read Levertov's Work That Enfaiths.

You can access the highest quality painting, with zoom in and zoom out capabilities, here:

Diego Velázquez, Spanish, 1599-1660
Alone bird perching on power cable lines isolated on white background.