Denise Levertov

March 6, 2007


Writes ‘poetry of secrets’
Emotional themes of love, desire and grief
Believed form should be a revelation of content
Claimed connection with mystics of the past, father descended from a Russian rabbi and member of a Jewish mystical movement
Moved to the United States at twenty-five with her husband Mitchell Goodman
Became a war protester during the 60’s
In later volumes returned to a more intimate poetry
Became Roman Catholic a few years before her death from lymphoma


The ache of marriage:
thigh and tongue, beloved, / are heavy with it, / it throbs in the teeth
We look for communion / and are turned away, beloved, / each and each
It is leviathan and we / in its belly / looking for joy, some joy / not to be known outside it
two by two in the ark of / the ache of it.

-The Ache of Marriage (in whole)

This is the year the old ones, / the old great ones / leave us alone on the road.
The road leads to the sea. / We have the words in our pockets, / obscure directions. The old ones
have taken away the light of their presence, / we see it moving away over a hill / off to one side.
They are not dying, / they are withdrawn / into a painful privacy
learning to live without words. / E.P. ‘It looks like dying’ -Williams: ‘I can’t / describe to you what has been
happening to me’- / H.D. ‘unable to speak.’ / The darkness
twists itself in the wind, the stars / are small, the horizon / ringed with confused urban light-haze.
They have told us / the road leads to the sea, / and given
the language into our hands. / We hear / our footsteps each time a truck
has dazzled past us and gone / leaving us new silence. / One can’t reach
the sea on this endless / road to the sea unless / one turns aside at the end, it seems,
follows / the owl that silently glides above it / aslant, back and forth,
and away into deep woods.
But for us the road / unfurls itself, we count the / words in our pockets, we wonder
how it will be without them, we don’t / stop walking, we know / there is f ar to go, sometimes
we think the night wind carries / a smell of the sea…

-September 1961 (in whole)

In conversation with Amy Lowell?

By the gas-fire, kneeling / to undress, / scorching luxuriously, raking
her nails over olive sides, the red / waistband ring-
(And the little sister / beady-eyed in the bed- / or drowsy, was I? My head / a camera-)
Sixteen. Her breasts / round, round, and / dark-nippled-
who now these two months long / is bones and tatters of flesh in earth.

Your eyes were the brown gold of pebbles under water. / I never crossed the bridge over the Roding, dividing / the open field of the present from the mysteries, / the wraiths and shifts of time-sense Wanstead Park held suspended, / without remembering your eyes. Even when we were estranged / and my own eyes smarted in pain and anger at the thought of you. / And by other streams in other countries; anywhere where the light / reaches down through shallows to gold gravel. Olga’s / reaches down through shallows to gold gravel. Olga’s / brown eyes. One rainy summer, down in the New Forest, / when we could hardly breathe for ennui and the low sky, / you turned savagely to the piano and sightread / straight through all the Beethoven sonatas, day after day- / weeks, it seemed to me. I would turn the pages some of the time, / go out to ride my bike, return- you were enduring in the / falls and rapids of the music, the arpeggios rang out, the rectory / trembled, our parents seemed effaced. / I think of your eyes in that photo, six years before I was born, / the fear in them. What did you do with your fear, / later? Through the years of humiliation, / of paranoia and blackmail and near-starvation, losing / the love of those you loved, one after another, / parents, lovers, children, idolized friends, what kept / compassion’s candle alight in you, that lit you / clear into another chapter (but the same book) ‘a clearing / in the selva oscura, / a house whose door / swings open, a hand beckons / in welcome’? / I cross / so many brooks in the world, there is so much light / dancing on so many stones, so many questions my eyes / smart to ask of your eyes, gold brown eyes, / the lashes short but the lids / arched as if carved out of olivewood, eyes with some vision / of festive goodness in back of their hard, or veiled, or shining, / unknowable gaze…

-Olga Poems

(Olga Levertoff, 1914-1964)

Some Notes of Organic Form (1965)

Part of the Black Mountain school’s experimentation with adressing open form
The orgainc poem emerges as a whole, coherent both within itself and in relation to the dictates of the experience


“the pattern of essential characteristic both in single objects and (what is more interesting) in objects in a state of relation to each other, and the word ‘instress’ to denote experiencing of the perception of inscape, the apperception of inscape.”

“But the condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand: the poem.”

“So- as the poet stands open-mouthed in the temple of life, contemplating his experience, there come to him the first words of the poem: the words which are to be his way in to the poem, if there is to be a poem.”

“During the writing of a poem the various elements of the poet’s being are in communion with each other, and heightened.”

“In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception. And the sounds, acting together with the measure, are a kind of extended onomatopoeia…”

“But perhaps the difference is this: that free verse isolates the ‘rightness’ of each line or cadence- if it seems expressive, then never mind the relation of it to the next; while in organic poetry the peculiar rhythms of the parts are in some degree modified, if necessary, in order to discover the rhythm of the whole.”

“Form is never more than a revelation of content.” 

“A religious devotion to the truth, to the splendor of the authentic, involves the writer in a process rewarding in itself; but when that devotion brings us to undreamed abysses and we find ourselves sailing slowly over them and landing ont he other side- that’s ecstasy.”


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