Denise Levertov

I find it a little strange considering that ninety percent of the poetry books I own are written by men but the second poet I’m attracted to in Postmodern American Poetry is also a woman, in this case Denise Levertov, a poet I’ve apparently been attracted to before since I discovered she was already on my Amazon Wish List. Coincidently, like Hilda Morley, she is associated with Black Mountain Review, as is the last book of poetry I randomly chose from the book store, Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems.

Though I think I’m primarily attracted to her style, I was also attracted to the following poem because of my fondness for glass bubbles with winter scenes:


No driving snow in the glass bubble,
but mild September.

Outside, the stark shadows
menace, and fling their huge arms about
unheard. I breathe

a tepid air, the blur
of asters, of brown fern and gold-dust
seems to murmur,

and that’s what I hear, only that.
Such clear walls of curved glass:
I see the violent gesticulations

and feel–no, not nothing. But in this
gentle haze, nothing commensurate.
It is pleasant in here. History

mouths, volume turned off. A band of iron,
like they put round a split tree,
circles my heart. In here

it is pleasant, but when I open
my mouth to speak, I too
am soundless. Where is the angel

to wrestle with me and wound
not my thigh but my throat,
so curses and blessings flow storming out

and the glass shatters, and the iron sunders?

Although I was initially attracted by the glass bubble metaphor, I stayed around because at times I, too, have felt that the lack of real hardship in my life has left me spiritually weaker than I might have otherwise been.

It’s not that difficult to see life optimistically when your life has been as easy and as rewarding as mine has been. Most things have always seemed to come rather easily to me. And, with the notable exception of a couple women who’ve rejected me, I’ve pretty much had everything in life I ever wanted. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that I haven’t wanted very much.

Sometimes like Levertov I worried that my happiness, for lack of a better word, has kept me from being the best person I could have been, that the softness of my life has entrapped me in its own special way.

In one sense, it goes back to that sophomoric, but common, young person’s wish that something “awful” or at least something “dramatic” will finally happen in life so they’ll finally have something worth writing about.

(You did notice that my recent brush with Death inspired a sudden rush of poetry, didn’t you? In retrospect, I’ll skip the poetry in favor of avoiding such instances for the immediate future. No amount of poetry can compensate for such pain.)

But I think it goes beyond that sophomoric wish, because there is a real need to be tested in life, and most of us are instinctively drawn to such tests. Many of us go out of our way to find experiences that will provide such tests, and help build the requisite strengths.

9 thoughts on “Denise Levertov”

  1. While I agree that there is a need to be tested, I disagree that “Many of us go out of our way to find experiences that will provide such tests….” Yes, some do. But I think most do not. I guess it is the use of “many” that catches me here. I think seeking out those tests requires already having garnered some of those “requisite strengths.” Perhaps it is the idea that the more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn.

    Perhaps my perspective is derived from where I’ve come from (and from my own fear of failing), but it seems that more people are willing to avoid those tests and stay in their comfort zones than are apt to seek them out. Confronting those tests means we have to confront the unknown — and the risk of failing — and that fear can be a powerful motivator to keep us in our chairs.

    It is only recently that I’ve begun pushing myself to take on those tests, but I must say, it’s hard battling that fear.

  2. In addition, the fact that you, Loren, are one of those people who seeks out those tests is admirable. May I learn from your example.

  3. “The Big Man That Dropped Dead,” by Duncan Mclean

    I had this pal that knew about poetry, he was in the mental asylum. He could speak poetry really good, in fact he couldn’t speak anything else. He’d see it up there and he’d just pull it down and speak it. On and On. He dropped dead though. I was standing there and he fell down right in front of me. Aye he was a big man, but he just dropped dead. So there you go, eh, poetry …

  4. Yeah, like I said. Sometimes there’s just too high of a price for the gift of poetry.

    Or were you implying something about my mental state, Tom : -?

  5. Denise Levertov’s poetry. Among the best I’ve read in 55 years. I recommend her books, WITH EYES AT THE BACK OF OUR HEADS (poetry) and THE POET IN THE WORLD (essays). She read her poetry at University of Washington one time when I was able to be there. Glad to see her in your postings. Good to read that you are feeling better and that your creative spirit is strong.

  6. I think all of us seek both the “comfortable” and the “unknown” in varying degrees, Jason. And certainly some people are more willing than I was to settle into the comfortable.

    However, I don’t think that I’m particularly unusual in seeking out “tests” because like many people I have little patience with repetition.

    In fact, in pushing yourself to become a lawyer, you’re pushing yourself in a ways I wasn’t willing to do.

    In a very real sense, I “settled” for teaching and raising a family because by the time I had my first child I was 30 and didn’t want to wait any longer for something I had always wanted.

  7. Your posting just brought McLean’s piece to mind. Thanks for sharing your insights into so many writers. My wishes for your good health.

  8. It was wonderful to read your interpretation of this poem because i did not understand it in the same way. To me the glass bubble was not the safety of her world it was more of something that she retreated to after being quite badly hurt. I understood it as a numbness she entered, where life was still happening around her yet she was not fazed by it and then in the end she was finally ready to BE again and break out of her funk and be heard just to simply be heard again.
    But the way you saw this poem gave me such a different understanding !
    Its bewildering!
    Thank you and best of health to you too

    1. Thanks for the comment. Try to find a couple of other readings, interpretations, Mariya. I certainly don’t consider my reading definitive, but that’s the way it strikes me at this point in my life. I’m not sure I would have even liked the poem or reacted to it in the same way when I was in college, much less high school.

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