The thirteen sections of “A New Year’s Garland for My Students/MIT: 1969-1970” were inspired by the students in a poetry seminar during Levertov’s year as a visiting professor and poet-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Each section is dedicated to one student, and each varies in length and line arrangement. Levertov captures the essence of the students by observing telling details and making frequent comparisons with nature.
For example, in “Arthur,” Levertov sees a person at a stage in life when nothing seems to be happening. She compares him to the buds of trees and bushes that in winter go unnoticed. Yet the buds are there and are as complex and beautiful as are the “eventual silky leaves in spring.” Using the word “silky” indicates her positive attitude toward his development. Silk is a fabric highly valued as well as smooth to the touch; the comparison calls to mind the lowly silkworm that produces the luxurious strands.
In “Bill,” Levertov sees a questioner who can disturb the pleasant atmosphere by posing important but dark thoughts. She pictures a garden with a fence around it, but the fence has an open gate. Perhaps she is comparing this garden to the classroom, an enclosure that has an open atmosphere in its encouragement of creativity. The garden is pretty and stable, predictable. Yet in a dark corner lurk threatening eyes that interject an element of uncertainty into the otherwise...
(The entire section is 530 words.)