Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov was born on October 24, 1923 In Ilford, Essex, England.

Although she was born in Europe, Levertov eventually became a naturalized citizen and a well known and respected American poet whose style has been described by some as “deceptively matter-of-fact”. Her concerns with social issues and her inclination towards humanitarianism are qualities that acquaint her with the Beat movement.

Levertov served as a civilian nurse during World War II in London during the bombings. She eventually moved to New York with her husband in 1947 and became a naturalized citizen in 1955.

Her first collection of poetry, published in 1946 – The Double Image – was not met with success. In 1957 she released Here and Now and quickly followed with a collection entitled Overland to the Islands. During the 1960’s, this prolific writer created five more volumes of verse.

Like many of the writers of the Beat generation, Levertov shared an interest in Eastern Mysticism and translated Hindu work, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali. In adamant opposition to the Viet Nam War, she joined the War Resisters League and eventually produced a collection called Out of the War Shadow in 1967.

Many of her other works include: Footprints (1972), Candles in Babylon (1982), Breathing the Water (1987) and Evening Train (1992).


Talking to Grief

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.


September 1961

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they are withdrawn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.
Ine 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 usthe 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 far to go, sometimes

we think the night wind carries
a smell of the sea…


In Mind

There’s in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without
ostentation-

but she has
no imagination

And there’s a
turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.

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