The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov

The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov

by Denise Levertov

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Denise Levertov's Selected Poems delivers in a single accessible volume "one of the essential poets of our time" (Poetry Flash).
Culled from two dozen poetry books, and drawing from six decades of her writing life, The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov offers a chronological overview of her great body of work. It is splendid and impressive to have at last a


Denise Levertov's Selected Poems delivers in a single accessible volume "one of the essential poets of our time" (Poetry Flash).
Culled from two dozen poetry books, and drawing from six decades of her writing life, The Selected Poems of Denise Levertov offers a chronological overview of her great body of work. It is splendid and impressive to have at last a clear, unobstructed view of her ground-breaking poetry—the work of a poet who, as Kenneth Rexroth put it, "more than anyone, led the redirection of American the mainstream of world literature."
Described by Publishers Weekly as "at once as intimate as Creeley and as visionary as Duncan," Levertov was lauded as "one of the indispensable poets of our language, one of those few writers to whom it is necessary to pay attention" by The Malahat Review. No poet is more overdue for a single accessible volume; no career could be better to have within easy reach.

Editorial Reviews

Levertov is, in some ways, the anti-Plath: a bit older than Sylvia, she struggled through the same spiritual crises of the mid-20th century and emerged as a professional poet with a long and varied career. Such stability doesn't always help build a poet's reputation these days, of course. Today she may seem a bit old hat, with her Black Mountain, Native American and Catholic-leftist influences. Still, the writing is always skillful and the themes of personal and political sustenance of universal appeal. For a school's solid poetry collection, this volume of her selected poems covering her full six decades of work (she was born in 1923, and died in 1997) is well worth having. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, New Directions, 220p. notes. index., Ages 15 to adult.
— Daniel Levinson

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New Directions Publishing Corporation
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selected poems

By Denise Levertov

A New Directions Book

Copyright © 2002 The Denise Levertov Literary Trust, Paul A. Lacey and Valerie Trueblood, Co-Trustees
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0811215547

Chapter One

The roses tremble; oh, the sunflowers eye Is opened wide in sad expectancy. Westward and back the circling swallows fly, The rook's battalions dwindle near the hill.

That low pulsation in the east is war: No bell now breaks the evening's silent dream. The bloodless clarity of evening's sky Betrays no whisper of the battle-scream.

The world alive with love, where leaves tremble, systole and diastole marking miraculous hours, is burning round the children where they lie deep in caressing grasses all the day, and feverish words of once upon a time assail their hearts with languor and with swans. The pebble's shadow quivers in the sun; the light grows low, and they become tuned to the love and death of day, the instruments of life and dream, as Syrinx flying in fear from unimaginable sound, became musics green channel; then they rise and go up the inevitable stony slope to search untravelled valleys for the land of wonder and of loss; but on that hill they find it, wound about them like a cloud.

Some are too much at home in the role of wanderer, watcher, listener; who, by lamplit doors that open only to another's knock, commune with shadows and are happier with ghosts than living guests in a warm house. They drift about the darkening city squares, coats blown in evening winds and fingers feeling familiar holes in pockets, thinking: Life has always been a counterfeit, a dream where dreaming figures danced behind the glass. Yet as they work, or absently stand at a window letting a tap run and the plates lie wet, while the bright rain softly shines upon slates, they feel the whole of life is theirs, the music, "colour, and warmth, and light"; hands held safe in the hands of love; and trees beside them dark and gentle, growing as they grow, a part of the world with fire and house and child. The undertone of all their solitude is the unceasing question, "Who am I? A shadow's image on the rainy pavement, walking in wonder past the vivid windows, a half-contented guest among my ghosts? Or one who, imagining light, air, sun, can now take root in life, inherit love?"

London, 1946

Too easy: to write of miracles, dreams where the famous give mysterious utterance to silent truth; to confuse snow with the stars, simulate a star's fantastic wisdom.

Easy like the willow to lament, rant in trampled roads where pools are red with sorrowful fires, and sullen rain drips from the willows' ornamental leaves; or die in words and angrily turn to pace like ghosts about the walls of war. But difficult when, innocent and cold, day, a bird over a hill, flies in -resolving anguish to a strange perspective, a scene within a marble; returning the brilliant shower of coloured dreams to dust, a smell of fireworks lingering by canals on autumn evenings-difficult to write of the real image, real hand, the heart of day or autumn beating steadily: to speak of human gestures, clarify all the context of a simple phrase -the hour, the shadow, the fire, the loaf on a bare table.

Hard, under the honest sun, to weigh a word until it balances with love- burden of happiness on fearful shoulders; in the ease of daylight to discover what measure has its music, and achieve the unhaunted country of the final poem.

Sicily, 1948

The earthwoman by her oven
tends her cakes of good grain. The waterwoman's children are spindle thin.
The earthwoman
has oaktree arms. Her children full of blood and milk
stamp through the woods shouting.
The waterwoman
sings gay songs in a sad voice
with her moonshine children. When the earthwoman has had her fill of the good day
she curls to sleep in her warm hut
a dark fruitcake sleep but the waterwoman
goes dancing in the misty lit-up town
in dragonfly dresses and blue shoes.

You have my attention: which is a tenderness, beyond what I may say. And I have your constancy to
something beyond myself. The force of your commitment charges us-we live in the sweep of it, taking courage one from the other.

I want to speak to you. To whom else should I speak? It is you who make a world to speak of. In your warmth the fruits ripen-all the apples and pears that grow on the south wall of my head. If you listen it rains for them, then they drink. If you speak in response the seeds jump into the ground. Speak or be silent: your silence will speak to me.

What a sweet smell rises
when you lay the dust- bucket after bucket of water thrown on the yellow grass.
flashes each time you make it leap-
arching its glittering back. The sound of
more water pouring into the pail almost quenches my thirst. Surely when flowers grow here, they'll not smell sweeter than this
wet ground, suddenly black.

From the tawny light from the rainy nights from the imagination finding itself and more than itself alone and more than alone at the bottom of the well where the moon lives, can you pull me

into December? a lowland of space, perception of space towering of shadows of clouds blown upon clouds over
new ground, new made under heavy December footsteps? the only way to live?

The flawed moon acts on the truth, and makes an autumn of tentative silences. You lived, but somewhere else, your presence touched others, ring upon ring, and changed. Did you think I would not change?

turns away, its work done. A tenderness, unspoken autumn. We are faithful only to the imagination. What the imagination
seizes as beauty must be truth.
What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone.

Let's go-much as that dog goes, intently haphazard. The Mexican light on a day that 'smells like autumn in Connecticut' makes iris ripples on his black gleaming fur-and that too is as one would desire-a radiance consorting with the dance.
Under his feet rocks and mud, his imagination, sniffing, engaged in its perceptions-dancing edgeways, there's nothing the dog disdains on his way, nevertheless he keeps moving, changing pace and approach but not direction-'every step an arrival.'

'We'll go out before breakfast, and get some mushrooms,' says my mother.

Early, early: the sun risen, but hidden in mist

the square house left behind sleeping, filled with sleepers;

up the dewy hill, quietly, with baskets.

Mushrooms firm, cold;
tussocks of dark grass, gleam of webs, turf soft and cropped. Quiet and early. And no valley, no hills: clouds about our knees, tendrils of cloud in our hair. Wet scrags of wool caught in barbed wire, gorse looming, without scent.
the lifting of it, the mist rolls
quickly away, and far, far-

'Look!' she grips me, 'It is

miles away!'-the voice a wave rising to Eryri, falling.
Snowdon, home of eagles, resting place of Merlin, core of Wales.

graces the mountainhead for a lifetime's look, before the mist
draws in again.

The Rav of Northern White Russia declined, in his youth, to learn the language of birds, because the extraneous did not interest him; nevertheless when he grew old it was found he understood them anyway, having listened well, and as it is said, 'prayed
with the bench and the floor.' He used what was at hand-as did

Angel Jones of Mold, whose meditations were sewn into coats and britches.
Well, I would like to make, thinking some line still taut between me and them, poems direct as what the birds said, hard as a floor, sound as a bench, mysterious as the silence when the tailor would pause with his needle in the air.

I can lay down that history I can lay down my glasses I can lay down the imaginary lists of what to forget and what must be done. I can shake the sun out of my eyes and lay everything down on the hot sand, and cross the whispering threshold and walk right into the clear sea, and float there, my long hair floating, and fishes vanishing all around me. Deep water. Little by little one comes to know the limits and depths of power.

As if it were forever that they move, that we
keep moving-

Under a wan sky where
as the lights went on a star

follows steadily

above our six lanes
the dreamlike continuum ...

And the people-ourselves!
the humans from inside the
cars, apparent
only at gasoline stops

eyeing each other

drink coffee hastily at the
slot machines & hurry back to the ears
into them forever, to
keep moving-

Houses now & then beyond the sealed road, the trees / trees, bushes passing by, passing
the cars that
keep moving ahead of
us, past us, pressing behind us

over left, those that come
toward us shining too brightly moving relentlessly

in six lanes, gliding
north & south, speeding with
a slurred sound-

With eyes at the back of our heads we see a mountain not obstructed with woods but laced here and there with feathery groves.

The doors before us in a façade that perhaps has no house in back of it are too narrow, and one is set high with no doorsill. The architect sees

the imperfect proposition and turns eagerly to the knitter. Set it to rights! The knitter begins to knit.

For we want to enter the house, if there is a house, to pass through the doors at least into whatever lies beyond them,

we want to enter the arms of the knitted garment. As one is re-formed, so the other, in proportion.

When the doors widen when the sleeves admit us the way to the mountain will clear, the mountain we see with eyes at the back of our heads, mountain green, mountain cut of limestone, echoing with hidden rivers, mountain of short grass and subtle shadows.

I like to find what's not found at once, but lies

within something of another nature, in repose, distinct. Gull feathers of glass, hidden

in white pulp: the bones of squid which I pull out and lay blade by blade on the draining board-

tapered as if for swiftness, to pierce
the heart, but fragile, substance
belying design. Or a fruit, mamey,

cased in rough brown peel, the flesh rose-amber, and the seed: the seed a stone of wood, carved and

polished, walnut-colored, formed like a brazilnut, but large, large enough to fill the hungry palm of a hand.

I like the juicy stem of grass that grows within the coarser leaf folded round, and the butteryellow glow in the narrow flute from which the morning-glory opens blue and cool on a hot morning.

Green Snake, when I hung you round my neck and stroked your cold, pulsing throat
as you hissed to me, glinting arrowy gold scales, and I felt
the weight of you on my shoulders, and the whispering silver of your dryness
sounded close at my ears-

Green Snake-I swore to my companions that certainly
you were harmless! But truly I had no certainty, and no hope, only desiring
to hold you, for that joy,
a long wake of pleasure, as the leaves moved and you faded into the pattern of grass and shadows, and I returned smiling and haunted, to a dark morning.

Maybe it is true we have to return to the black air of ashcan city because it is there the most life was burned,

as ghosts or criminals return? But no, the city has no monopoly of intense life. The dust burned

golden or violet in the wide land to which we ran away, images of passion sprang out of the land

as whirlwinds or red flowers, your hands opened in anguish or clenched in violence under that sun, and clasped my hands

in that place to which we will not return where so much happened that no one else noticed, where the city's ashes that we brought with us flew into the intense sky still burning.


Excerpted from selected poems by Denise Levertov Copyright © 2002 by The Denise Levertov Literary Trust, Paul A. Lacey and Valerie Trueblood, Co-Trustees
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) was a British born American poet. She wrote and published 20 books of poetry, criticism, translations. She also edited several anthologies. Among her many awards and honors, she received the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Lannan Award, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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