The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Ache of Marriage” is part of a Denise Levertov collection entitled O Taste and See: New Poems. In the title poem and others in the collection, Levertov moves outward from the sensual and immediate to the wider implications of actions or concepts. The poems are filled with rich physical detail, which the poet uses in this particular poem to present the essential qualities of a marriage. Levertov had written about marriage in earlier poems such as “The Marriage, I” and “The Marriage, II” (in her 1958 and 1960 collections), but those love poems are somewhat more conventional and romantic than her work in O Taste and See. In this collection she achieves a new sense of immediacy, coupling personal experience with myth. These qualities are evident in such poems as “Abel’s Bride” and “Divorcing” as well as in “The Ache of Marriage.” In O Taste and See Levertov seems to have found her personal poetic voice.

“The Ache of Marriage” is a short poem in free verse, its thirteen lines divided into irregular stanzas of one, three, three, three, and two lines. The title, which is repeated as the first line, establishes the essential conflict and dilemma of the poem: the yearning for a total communion within marriage that is probably not attainable. The poem uses the first-person-plural point of view, suggesting that both the man and the woman are searching for joy but are finding that joy tempered with...

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The Ache of Marriage Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Born and reared in England, Levertov moved to the United States after World War II as the bride of an American soldier. Her work was much influenced by American poets, especially William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan. Added to her traditional British poetic experience, the American influence encouraged Levertov to adopt innovative forms.

The poetic devices most important to the poem in achieving both immediacy and voice are the seemingly unstructured free-verse form, the heavy use of sensual imagery, and the use of biblical myth. Levertov used what could be called organic form in “The Ache of Marriage.” As she has indicated in interviews and writing, she lets the content or subject matter of a poem determine its form. Free verse, with its irregular meter and irregular line and stanza lengths, gives her the freedom of prose combined with the intensity of poetry. The term “projective verse” could also be applied to her work in this poem. Projective verse regards meter and form as artificial constraints and seeks to “project” a voice through the content and the pauses for breath that determine the line. The result in this case is a poem of fragmented prose poetry that expresses, through its lack of strict form, the quality of a marriage as being both a yearning for and an inability to communicate fully. Both partners are reaching out but are almost clumsily unable to reach each other.

Since the poem is composed...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

The Ache of Marriage Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Block, Edward, ed. Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 50, no. 1 (Fall, 1997). Special Levertov issue.

Gwynne, R. S., ed. American Poets Since World War II. Vol. 5 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980.

Hollenberg, Donna. “’History as I Desired It’: Ekphrasis as Postmodern Witness in Denise Levertov’s Late Poetry.” Modernism/Modernity 10, no. 3 (September, 2003): 519-537.

Janssen, Ronald, ed. Twentieth Century Literature 38, no. 3 (Fall, 1992). Special Levertov issue.

Little, Anne Colclough, and Susie Paul, eds. Denise Levertov: New Perspectives. West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill Press, 2000.

Long, Mark. “Affinities of Faith and Place in the Poetry of Denise Levertov.” ISLE 6, no. 2 (Summer, 1999): 31-40.

Rodgers, Audrey. Denise Levertov: The Poetry of Engagement. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1993.

Wagner, Linda W. Denise Levertov. New York: Twayne, 1967.

Wagner, Linda W., ed. Denise Levertov: In Her Own Province. New York: New Directions, 1979.

Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Critical Essays on Denise Levertov. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.