The Secret

I heard a poem today that really electrified me because it succinctly and adroitly summarized the relationships between artist, consumer and a work. I was excited by “The Secret,” by Denise Levertov, because it points out that your perception of a work doesn’t need to be in synch with that of the creator for you to have an authentic experience.

For that reason alone I think every beginning level fine art and literature class should start with this poem. Handing it out at arts events to assuage the fears of attendees that they are stupid if they don’t “get it” would be valuable, too.

The only flaw with this is that people have to understand the message of the poem without much need of explanation. Lengthy instruction about what they are supposed to think runs counter to the whole intent after all.

The poem also talks about how revisiting a work multiple times can be rewarding. Often I wonder if people don’t recognize this about art: How there are valid reasons to read a book, listen to a symphony work, see a play, a sculpture, a dance piece many times over the course of your life.

I could go on and on for a bit talking about what great messages I see in the poem. As I said though, that is a bit counterproductive. I am including the poem below and hope if you don’t find it particularly inspiring, you at least enjoy the sentiment.

“The Secret” Denise Levertov

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

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line.

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.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment