Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem’s two primary themes are expressed immediately: the simultaneous longing for total communication and the knowledge that such communication is probably not possible. Love and marriage have been subjects for poets throughout the centuries, so Levertov is certainly not tackling a new subject. Yet she breaks from tradition by presenting her themes from both a twentieth century and a timeless perspective.

Levertov is often discussed as a feminist poet, but her reflections on love, marriage, and even divorce are never occasions for “male bashing.” Rather, she suggests that both men and women have difficulty in functioning wholly either within or outside marriage. In “Divorcing” she writes, “We were Siamese twins,/ Our blood’s not sure/ it can circulate,/ now we are cut apart.” In the poems in O Taste and See she presents a realistic rather than a romantic picture of love and marriage. Twentieth century works (with the exception of romance novels) do not romanticize love and marriage with a “happily ever after” conclusion. They are honest in their sometimes puzzling conclusions. Levertov, like other modern poets, leaves the reader feeling both hope and despair.