Living The ﬁre in leaf and grass so green it seems each summer the last summer. The wind blowing, the leaves shivering in the sun, each day the last day. A red salamander so cold and so easy to catch, dreamily moves his delicate feet and long tail. I hold my hand open for him to go. Each minute the last minute. Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)
S1 … Summer is a time of growth and there is poetic fire in such happenings. And in Australia summer and fire is synonymous. The green to the eye should be appreciated. We don’t know whether it will be our last summer and summers don’t come round every day.
S2 … The leaves on some trees do appear to shiver in the wind. And with the extremes in climate being experienced in Australia there have been many trees toppled by the wind in recent months. So in this stanza we go from making the most of a season to making the most of each day in that season.
S3/S4 … This is a very detailed look at a red salamander who is just living. A precarious living because of the cold and it is held in the hand of the poet. Life is precarious and precious and so easy to falter. But in this case, it is a hand of help to let the salamander move away albeit very slowly. Life is fragile and can end so easily. (I hope there is a hand of help in your living.)
And the last line considers making the most of each minute. Wherever you are. The clear emphasis is on the now. And no procrastination allowed! It is a carpe diem poem on seizing the day.
Denise Levertov was born in Ilford UK but when she married an American she moved to the United States. The red salamander is found in eastern USA.