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Poems of Denise Levertov, 1972-1982

Poems of Denise Levertov, 1972-1982

by Denise Levertov
Three of Denise Levertov's classic volumes, now available in a single edition. Here gathered for the first time in a single edition are three of Denise Levertov's finest books: The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982). This new compilation—beginning where Denise Levertov's Poems


Three of Denise Levertov's classic volumes, now available in a single edition. Here gathered for the first time in a single edition are three of Denise Levertov's finest books: The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982). This new compilation—beginning where Denise Levertov's Poems 1968-1972 left off—testifies not only to Levertov's technical mastery, but also to her spiritual vision, especially in regard to the Vietnam War. Some of Levertov's best war poems, the result of her visit to North Vietnam in 1972, are contained in this marvelous collection. Poems 1972-1982 enables readers to observe a crucial phase in Levertov's poetic development. At the same time, it illuminates Robert Creeley's assessment that she "was a constantly defining presence in the world we shared, a remarkable and transforming poet for all of us."

Author Biography: Denise Levertov was born in London and educated at home. When she came to the US in 1948, Levertov was introduced to the American reading public with The New British Poets, an anthology edited by Kenneth Rexroth and published by ND. For years Levertov lived in Somerville, MA and was closely identified with the Boston area. She taught part of the year at Brandeis and the other part at Stanford, CA. In 1992 Denise Levertov moved to Seattle, WA. Besides the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in poetry and the Lannan Prize, she won the 1996 Governor's Writers Award, from the Washington State Commission for the Humanities. She died of lymphoma on December 20, 1997, in Seattle, WA.

Editorial Reviews

Bloomsbury Review
Her poems bring joy to the ear and, by their transcendental shimmer, inspire a spiritual hunger.
Robert Hass
[O]ne of the most defining poets of her generation....She will be missed sorely. —Washington Post
Kenneth Rexroth
Denise Levertov is the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving. —New York Times
Levertov's death in 1997 ended nearly sixty years of devotion to poetry. This book contains three volumes from her turbulent and politically charged middle years: The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978) and Candles in Babylon (1982). Darkly psychological, always reverential, her work is profoundly informed by the rhythms of William Carlos Williams and the spiritual profundity of Gerard Manley Hopkins. In some of these poems, her outrage over the Vietnam conflict is expressed with intense political righteousness, and the ideology du jour often overrides the poetic experience. Nonetheless, Levertov possessed an extraordinary gift for finding what she called "the inherent music of experience." The writer found her distinctive voice early, and genius seldom abandoned her.
—Stephen Whited

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Back in print from New Directions are crucial texts from essential poets in two new volumes. Poems 1972-1982 collects Denise Levertov's The Freeing of Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978) and Candles in Babylon (1982). Levertov, who died in 1997 at 74, was one of the most eloquent critics of the war in Vietnam: "Each time around, fresh details,/ variations of place and weapon./ All night imagining murder." ( Apr. 24) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Collected in this volume are three books, in their entirety, from the middle of a distinguished career-The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982)-but no "new" or revised material. Levertov (who died in 1997 at the age of 74) wrote poems that are accessible and unadorned, but her straightforwardness does not preclude a profound metaphorical resonance. She was in tune with the natural world and our place in it, as demonstrated in the remarkable, if unlikely, "Pig Dream" sequence ("I love my own Humans and their friends, / but let it be said, / their race is dangerous"). She was also fiercely committed to speaking out against war (Vietnam, especially, in the earlier poems collected here) and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants; hers are among the best poems we have on these subjects. "A Speech: For Antidraft Rally, D.C., March 22, 1980" concludes with what should be a simple admonition: "We must dare to win / not wars, but a future / in which to live." Levertov took pains to avoid the self-conscious use of the first person, and as a result her vision has a welcome breadth and generosity: despite the often-bleak subject matter, tranquility and strength lie at the core of her best work, offering hope for the future: "You live / this April's pain / now, / you will come / to other Aprils, / each will astonish you." In the end, her oeuvre should prove as durable and relevant as the writers (William Carlos Williams, the Black Mountain poets, etc.) with whom she was frequently associated during her lifetime. An excellent representation of a major poet-for those who don't already own the books that comprise it.

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New Directions Publishing Corporation
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5.21(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.74(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

From a Plane

Green water of lagoons,
brown water of a great river
sunning its muscles along intelligent
rectangular swathes of
other brown, other green,
alluvial silvers.
                 Always air
looked down through, gives
a reclamation of order, revisioning
solace: the great body
not torn apart, though raked and raked
by our claws—


The turnpike, without history, a function
of history, grossly
cut through the woods,

secondgrowth woods without memory,
crowded saplings, bushes entangled,
sparse weedcrop on burned-over sandy embankments.

Brutally realized intentions speed us
from city to city—a driver's world:
and what is a driver? Driven? Obsessed?
These thickarmed men
seem at rest, assured, their world
a world of will and function.


Majestic insects buzz through the sky
bearing us pompously from love to love,
grief to grief,
motes in the gaze of that unblinking eye.

Our threads of life are sewn into dark cloth,
a sleeve that hangs down over
a sinister wrist. All of us.
It must be Time whose pale fingers
dangle beneath the hem ...

Solemn filaments, our journeyings
wind through the overcast.

Knowing the Unknown

Our trouble
is only the trouble anyone,
all of us, thrust from the ancient
holding-patterns, down toward
runways newbuilt,
knows; the strain
of flying wing by wing, not knowing
ever if both of us will land: the planet
under the clouds—
does it want us? Shall we be welcome,
we of air, of metallic
bitter rainbows,
of aching wings? Can we dissolve
like coins of hail,
touching down,
               down to the dense, preoccupied,
skeptical green world, that does not know us?

Chapter Two

In Summer

Night lies down
in the field when the moon
leaves. Head in clover,
held still.

It is brief,
this time of darkness,
hands of night
loosefisted, long hair

Sooner than one would dream,
the first bird
wakes with a sobbing cry. Whitely

dew begins to drift
Leafily naked, forms of the world
are revealed,
all asleep. Colors

come slowly
up from behind the hilltop,
looking for forms to fill for the day,
must rise and
move on, stiff and
not yet awake.

An Ancient Tree

'Can't get that tune
out of my head,'

can't get that tree
out of

some place in me.
And don't want to:

the way it
lifts up its arms,
opens them, and—

patient the way an
elderly horse is patient
crosses them, aloft,

to curve and recross:

the standing, the being
rooted, the look
as of longing.
At each divide,
the choice endured, branches
taking their roads in air.

Glance up
from the kitchen window;
that tree word,
still being said,
over the stone wall.

Fall mornings, its head of twigs
vaguely lifted,
a few apples
yellow in silver fog.

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