Brain Pickings

The Secret


“Two girls discover the secret of life on a sudden line of poetry.”

The secret of happiness — or of purpose, for the semantically scrupulous — is a kind of holy grail of human existence. We probe its science and psychology, scour its geography, go after it with empirical enthusiasm, seek it in the wisdom of our greatest heroes.

But might the faith that happiness is possible be the very secret to its attainment? This beautiful 1964 poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), entitled “The Secret,” makes me infinitely happy.


Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

“The Secret” comes from O Taste and See: New Poems, where you can find more of Levertov’s elegant and thoughtful poetry.

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