This sample Denise Levertov Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
A leading post-World War II American poet, Denise Levertov infuses descriptions of everyday objects with her personal, political, and religious sensibility. She is best known as part of the Black Mountain school of poetry.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Home Schooling and Early Poetry
Levertov’s father, a Russian Jew who immigrated to Great Britain and became an Anglican minister devoted to combining Christian and Jewish faiths, and her mother, who was well-versed in Welsh and English folklore and literature, both exerted strong influences on her poetry. Her father was descended from an eighteenth-century rabbi reputed to know the language of birds and was a founding member of Habid Hasidism, a Jewish mystical movement that opposes rationalism and celebrates the mystery of everyday events. Likewise, Levertov’s mother claimed the Welsh tailor and mystic Angell Jones of Mold among her forebears. In her poem ”Illustrious Ancestors,” Levertov declares an affinity with her heritage.
Levertov’s parents assumed all the responsibility for their two daughters’ education, relying on the family library and programs aired on the British Broadcasting System. Levertov’s only formal instruction occurred at ballet school. She began writing poetry at an early age and mailed several verses to prominent modernist poet T. S. Eliot—who responded with a lengthy and encouraging letter—when she was twelve years old. Her first volume of poems, The Double Image (1946), was written during World War II, a conflict that pitted European nations against one another in an attempt to control the political fate of the region. England was a key member of the Allied forces, who—along with Russia, France, and the United States—fought to keep German and other Axis forces from seizing control of surrounding regions. Levertov entered the Civil Nursing Reserve and continued to write while working as a civilian nurse in the early 1940s. Levertov’s lyrical pieces are set in traditional metrical and stanzaic forms, evidencing Levertov’s interest in English Romantic poetry.
Becoming Part of the Black Mountain School
Following the war, Levertov married American novelist Mitchell Goodman. For two years the couple lived in southern France near Goodman’s friend Robert Creeley, whose poetic theories greatly influenced the Black Mountain school of poetry. When Goodman and Levertov moved to the United States in the early 1950s, Levertov studied the American modernist poets—Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and, particularly, William Carlos Williams, whose objectivist edict ”no ideas but in things” profoundly influenced her verse. During this period, Levertov befriended American poet Robert Duncan, who is also associated with the Black Mountain school and who also wrote extensively about mythology, mysticism, and the occult. Levertov published verse in Black Mountain Review and Origin, prominent magazines that presented Black Mountain theories and literature. Levertov’s collections from this period, including Here and Now (1956), firmly established her as an important contemporary poet and contain many frequently anthologized pieces. Her thematic concerns are reflected in the lines ”I like to find / what’s not found / at once, but lies / within something of a different nature, / in repose, distinct.”
Teaching and Political Activism
While holding teaching positions at several United States colleges during the 1960s and 1970s, Levertov participated in demonstrations against American military involvement in the Vietnam conflict as well as other causes. Many writers were part of the radical movements in the 1960s that questioned traditional social, racial, and gender roles. Levertov encouraged draft resisters and helped found the Writers and Artists Protest against the War in Vietnam movement. Her volumes of this period, including The Sorrow Dance (1967), Re-learning the Alphabet (1970), and To Stay Alive (1971), document Levertov’s attempt to expand the realm of poetry to encompass social and political themes. In many of these poems, Levertov adopts a more immediate style to convey the urgency of her message. ”From a Notebook: October ’68-May ’69,” for example, combines letters, prose passages, and quotations to depict her experiences within the antiwar movement. Many critics faulted this new approach as too harsh and haphazard. Other critics agree, however, that Levertov’s political themes are better presented in ”The Olga Poems.” This sequence concerns Levertov’s relationship with her older sister, a political activist whose death in 1964 had a tremendous impact on Levertov’s public and personal life. Levertov’s later collections contain many pieces of a political nature and are also noted for poems that explore such personal topics as her growing spirituality and Christian faith.
Levertov continued publishing through the end of her life, writing poetry and prose as well as teaching. She continued to receive many awards, culminating in her election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1980. She died in 1997, in Seattle, after battling lymphoma.
Works in Literary Context
The Black Mountain School of Poetry
Because her poetry was published in the Black Mountain Review and because she formed friendships with Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson, all associated with Black Mountain College, Levertov came to be considered part of the so-called Black Mountain poetry movement. This loosely defined school had certain theories about poetic composition, most notably Olson’s concept of ”projective verse,” which involves ”composition by field.” In short, the shape of the poem is determined by its content and by the intuitive judgment of the poet. Levertov embraced the idea that poetic form should not be determined by traditional stanza patterns or preconceived assumptions about the shape of the poem. In the essay ”Some Notes on Organic Form” (in New and Selected Essays, 1965), Levertov articulates her sense of a poetic form that ”is based on an intuition of an order, a form beyond forms” that determines the rhythmic characteristics and the physical appearance of the poem.
Poetry of Nature
Levertov’s literary treatment of the natural world developed from neo-Romantic lyrics early in her career to caustic attacks on environmental degradation in the 1980s and 1990s, as she attempted to reveal how the intersection of militarism and technology harms both people and nature. Scholars have long acknowledged Levertov’s interest in the natural world, but her nature-oriented poetry has received less attention than her poems of political protest and spiritual exploration. Levertov does, however, make significant contributions to discussions of the relationship between people and nature. Perhaps more than any other poet of her era, she stresses that militarism and an undue obsession with technology lead to various abuses of power that are inseparable from one another. According to Levertov, warfare and other forms of violence threaten not only people but also the nonhuman world. Levertov repeatedly addressed the question of the autonomy of nature and the extent to which the human imagination can comprehend and commune with nonhuman entities. Levertov’s sense of the interplay between people and nature is sometimes examined through the lens of Christian spirituality. Levertov is unusual in that she emphasizes that the human relationship with God sets the human species apart from other animals, even as she rejects the notion that this belief implies a hierarchy in which the natural world and its creatures are considered less valuable than people. Her work thus combines elements of traditional theology with a late-twentieth-century ecological sensibility.
Works in Critical Context
Some critics have argued that Levertov’s political poetry is overly preachy and not poetic, that she unwisely abandoned her earlier aesthetic principles and experiments with form. Even friends such as Duncan questioned her politically oriented poetics. Others, however, supported her work, and Levertov, in essays and interviews, defended the importance of ”engaged poetry,” the term she used to describe poetry in touch with political and social issues. A great deal of Levertov’s work—not only her antiwar poems but also her meditations on landscapes, animals, and plants—represents her attempt to enter into the experience of people or objects outside herself.
Relearning the Alphabet and To Stay Alive
The poems Levertov wrote about the Vietnam War received a mixed reception. Dorothy M. Nielson praised their discovery of forms and their use of language as being fully appropriate to the political issues they explored, and Hay-den Carruth hailed Levertov’s political and antiwar poems as work that approached the status of an epic. He writes that her poems are some of ”the best products of the recent period of politically oriented vision among American poets.” Other poets and critics, however, attacked these works as crude and clunky. In the judgment of Duncan, Levertov accepted too readily the problematic language of public debate and thus denied the poet’s responsibility to stretch language and the imagination to their full potential; she did this by employing disclaimers such as that concerning her use of revolution as ”[t]he wrong word /…/ But it’s the only / word we have.” Other critics faulted the documentary emphasis in the poetry. Charles Altieri criticized Levertov’s ”aesthetics of presence,” with its focus on the concrete image, as being inadequate to represent the complex political and ethical issues and their contexts.
- Altieri, Charles. ”Denise Levertov and the Limits of the Aesthetics of Presence.” In Denise Levertov: Selected Criticism. Edited by Albert Gelpi. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993, pp. 126-147.
- Carruth, Hayden. ”Levertov.” In Critical Essays on Denise Levertov. Edited by Linda Wagner-Martin. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991, pp. 30-35.
- Gelpi, Albert, ed. Denise Levertov: Selected Criticism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
- Kinnahan, Linda A. Poetics of the Feminine: Authority and Literary Tradition in William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Denise Levertov, and Kathleen Fraser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Marten, Harry. Understanding Denise Levertov. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.
- Middleton, Peter. Revelation and Revolution in the Poetry of Denise Levertov. London: Binnacle Press, 1981.
- Rodgers, Audrey. Denise Levertov: The Poetry of Engagement. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993.
- Wagner, Linda Welshimer. Denise Levertov. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967.
- Freidman, Susan Stanford. ”Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Difference in Literary Discourse.” Feminist Studies 13.1 (1975): 328-341.
- Nielson, Dorothy M. ”Prosopopoeia and the Ethics of Ecological Advocacy in the Poetry of Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder.” Contemporary Literature 34 (1993): 691-713.
- Smith, Lorrie. ”An Interview with Denise Levertov.” Michigan Quarterly Review 24 (1985): 596-604.
- Robinson, Harriet Hanson. Dostoevsky and Existentialism. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from http:// fyodordostoevsky.com. Last updated on May 17, 2007.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.