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Denise Levertov is known for writing poems that seem very simple on the surface. She takes common, every-day occurrences and observations and turns them into something metaphysical. She elevates familiar objects to symbols that represent her social and political views. Much of her poetry is anti-war poetry because her career was at its peak during the Viet Nam War. She is sometimes associated with the Beat Poets. Her themes are often spiritual.
This poem is talking about two different women. One is described as "innocent, unadorned, fair-featured, smelling of grass and apples" wearing a "utopian" dress. She is "clean" but not showy, and she is kind but she has no imagination.
The other woman is a "turbulent moon-ridden girl, or old woman, or both" who is dressed in "Opals and rags, feathers and torn taffeta" who knows "strange songs" but is "not kind."
Since Levertov was a 1960s poet, I envision these opposites as two women the poet perhaps observed on the streets of San Franciso, Haigt Ashbury. The first one is naive, innocent and stary-eyed (note the use of the word "utopian" to describe her). She may have come to San Francisco from the farms of Nebraska (she smells like grass and apples). She is kind, but she has no imagination. The other woman is wild, perhaps a hippie, she sings strange songs, but she is not kind. The poem does not say that she HAS imagination, but I think we can infer that in contrast to the first woman, the second one does have imagination - she sings strange songs - so this indicates she has imagination. Perhaps she is on drugs?
Now, from that.............what do these two women represent? That is for you to decide, and that is the beauty of poetry. Maybe they don't represent anything - maybe they just "are". What do you think?
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