Denise Levertov was born October 24, 1923, in Ilford, Essex, England, the daughter of Paul Philip Levertoff, a Russian Jew who converted to Christianity and became a minister, and Beatrice Spooner-Jones, a Welsh preacher’s daughter. Until she was thirteen years old, Denise and her sister were educated by their parents at home. The environment was rich in books and cultural discussion; her mother read the great works of nineteenth century literature aloud to the family, and her father was literate in four languages. She did receive some formal education in the form of ballet study from age twelve through seventeen and, in addition, took French lessons, learned piano, and painted, all of which would later aid the development of her rhythm and style. Her parents had been prisoners of war at Leipzig during World War I, so many refugees came to their home. The resultant religious, social, and ethical discussions that took place there profoundly influenced her life and works.
This background provided a natural environment for learning to write, and at age five, Levertov decided to become a poet. When she was twelve, she sent some of her work to T. S. Eliot, himself a venerable poet of great esteem and, at the time, someone dealing with conflicting concerns about poetics, religion and social issues, who responded with an encouraging letter of advice. At sixteen, she corresponded with the poet and critic Herbert Read and also became acquainted with editor Charles Wrey and author Kenneth Rexroth.
During World War II, she underwent nurse’s training and worked for three years at St. Luke’s Hospital, where she helped to rehabilitate returning soldiers. During the evenings, she continued to write poetry. As noted, her family was actively engaged at this time in the relocation of Jewish refugees, so the war figured prominently in her life. Yet the political climate of the war did not directly figure in her first book, The Double Image (1946). The poems, here, dealt more from a personal vantage point of the loss of childhood, death, and separation, and Levertov composed them in more standard and regular stanzas than the free verse which she became synonymous with in her later work. She would continue to develop these themes, alongside her social and political...
(The entire section is 933 words.)