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...

(The entire section is 402 words.)