(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “Carapace,” Levertov writes about her response to the world’s political tragedies. A carapace is the hard shell of an animal, such as a turtle or crab, that protects the soft inner part from harm. The poem’s persona announces that she herself is growing a shell, even though she regrets the shell-like exteriors of other people that render them insensitive to the world’s problems. In the poem, she contemplates children. She begins as though the poet and a child were talking about a situation. The child has seen her own father shot by police; the poet asks the child if she knows what the word “subversive” means. The child’s somewhat attentive somewhat sardonic reply indicates that despite her youth, this child is already an adult, a product of modern inhumanity.

The poet then goes back to contemplating how well her shell is growing and how superior it is to mere skin. Speaking as though she could control the growing of a body part, she remarks that there will be chinks in the armor where the sections in the carapace do not completely meet. Whether or not the insinuation here demands that these are welcome points of entry where someone could still reach the soft underbelly is debatable, as one could read that act as one of violation or one of nurture. Yet, the poem’s ending is telling, depending upon how one invokes the tone.

Another child enters, this boy only nine years old. When asked how he feels about his missing father,...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.