Denise Levertov (LEHV-ur-tawf) was a visionary poet whose work combines the ethereal nature of consciousness with the specificity of the natural world. Levertov’s magical view of the world has its origins in her ancestry: Her mother was descended from the Welsh tailor and mystic Angel Jones of Mold; her father was descended from the noted Jewish mystic Schneour Zaiman, a Hasid, or member of a sect of Judaism that emphasized the soul’s communion with God. Levertov’s father ultimately converted to Christianity, becoming an Anglican priest, but he retained his interest in Judaism and told Hasidic legends to Denise and her older sister Olga, encouraging in them what Levertov has called “a wonder at creation.”
In 1947, Levertov moved to the United States, and it was there that she established her reputation as a poet, finding there a new sense of the English language that suited her poetic vision. Accordingly, she escaped what she saw as the stifling Romantic and Victorian traditions of the past. Her abandonment of formal meter and stanzaic form accompanied her transformation from a British to an American poet.
As a result, she embraced the more organic forms of free verse epitomized by imagistic poets such as H. D. and William Carlos Williams—particularly with regard to Williams’s credo “no ideas but in things.” In addition, she embraced the Black Mountain school of poetry. Like its representatives Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley, she discovered meaning in the poet’s personal relationship to her subject while conveying that meaning through lines whose unit of measure was the human...
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