On December 12 last year, I posted a piece titled “Annunciation”, based on Denise Levertov’s luminous poem of the same name. https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/annunciation/

I suggested in my post that Levertov offers a vision of Mary as a model of the practice of consent. In Levertov’s Mary we see what life looks like when we choose the spiritual discipline of bold consent in surrender to Christ.

Recently, my “Annunciation” post received a most helpful comment from Kevin who writes,

I would like to make a comment about the text of the poem: you have taken it, I presume, from her collection “The Stream and the Sapphire” (1997) and that version of the poem inexplicably omits the final 18 lines of the original poem that she published in “A Door in the Hive” (1989). (I am not certain of this but I assume it was a mistake.) I don’t know if having the complete poem will address your theological question, but it occurred to me that you might want to have the correct (full) version of the poem in your post. Here are the lines your post (and Stream) omits following the line “but who was God”:

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Had she not died in 1997 I would want to apologize to Denise Levertov for missing this beautiful conclusion to her poem. I concur with Kevin that it seems inconceivable that these 18 lines of Levertov’s work should simply have been dropped from the poem in The Stream and the Sapphire version I was using.

In these missing lines Levertov underlines the theme of the poem, emphasizing Mary’s freedom of choice. Mary could have refused the angel’s offer. She could have closed to the miracle of life that was about to be conceived in her being. She could have made excuses, could have pleaded humility as an excuse to avoid this fearsome destiny.

It is almost as if the whole cosmos stood poised, breathless on the edge of uncertainty, awaiting Mary’s decision:


But Mary did not turn away. She turned towards the light. She embraced the mystery that was about to engulf her life. She chose the perilous road of consent. And that consent “illumined her “; it “opened her utterly.”

I pray that my life may be illumined and opened by this same choice to consent to the presence and action of God at work in my life. I pray for the courage to choose and choose again the way of mystery that blows through my life with the unpredictable and barely discernible wind of God’s Spirit.


ps. In my original post on Levertov’s “Annunciation” I puzzled particularly over the four lines in which she imagines those who:

undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

In light of the conclusion of her poem, it seems to me now that these lines are less bewildering than they seemed upon first reading. It is possible to find oneself driven to surrender. The act of consent is not always a freely given choice of total surrender. Resignation is not the same as true abandonment.


did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.

Rather, she gave consent with “courage unparalleled,” and thus she was “opened” “utterly.”