Albert Gelpi on Robert Duncan’s language of revelation

[Robert] Duncan could maintain that language speaks to itself through the vehicle of the poem, that the poet does not write language but language writes the poem. Here, however, he connects words with things, language with nature in a sentence that could have been written by [Denise] Levertov: “I believe deeply that we make out of the sound of our mouth a speech to answer the speech, the profound depth with which the mountains speak to us, the sky speaks to us. I see the whole world as creation and revelation” (“Crisis” 65). And with poststructuralist language theory obviously in mind, Duncan went on:

I have none of the trouble that semiotics seem to have of how could a word refer to something. No word refers. Every word is the presence of. Tree is the very presence of the tree, and I have no way of being in the presence in the word alone or in my will that I saw a tree, but in this communion, this communication in which the revelation flows through and through. (“Crisis” 65)
Albert Gelpi in his essay “Poetic Language and Language Poetry: Levertov, Duncan, Creeley” available in Gelpi and Robert J. Bertholf‘s Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov: the poetry of politics, the politics of poetry, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006), p. 196. References Robert Duncan’s sermon “Crisis of Spirit in the Word” delivered at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York on February 7, 1982. Available in a transcription by Robert J. Bertholf as Copy Book Entries, (Buffalo, New York: Meow Press, 1996).

Albert Gelpi Robert Duncan Posted on behalf of and on Friday, February 26th, 2010 under Quotations.


  1. Hi lovely site – However I feel it is important for you to note that the Tree of Life Image you are using is a trademarked Copyrighted image. It is not a work of antiquity. It is an original design by Jen Delyth. Please visit for copyright information. You may request permission to use the image – if credited and linked via thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

  2. Hello.. could you please contact us.. we have not heard back from you regarding use of illustration “celtic tree of life” by jen delyth – which is credited “a moment in time” which is not correct. We need the image clearly credited to the artist, with web link, and use of authorized watermarked image.
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    Thanks – Chandler

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