Sands of the Well

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Levertov’s career has been marked by moral vision and political courage, a remarkable balancing of “everyday” life, mystical insight, and political utterance. These characteristic themes are maintained in SANDS OF THE WELL, as is her ability to find and express the epiphanic moment of perception or spiritual uplift. The special notes of Levertov’s later years, notes that include the embrace of the Pacific Northwest and of a more conventional religiosity, are played with stunning expertise.

SANDS OF THE WELL is divided into eight sections. Several sections contain nature poems, ranging from poems of description to poems of identification. Levertov insists on a correspondency of nature within and without the human agent. The title of the second section, “Sojourns in the Parallel World,” underscores this concern. Other sections gather poems about memory and music.

Section VII, “A South Wind,” focuses more intensely on the unity of man and nature, on how a certain type of looking is finally a state of being and becoming. Here, also, Levertov meditates (if brief lyrics can be meditations) on the sacred gift of language. While religious imagery and sentiments color “A South Wind,” a more particularized evocation of Christian faith links the poems in the book’s last section “Close to a Lake.” These devotional poems, placed where they are, suggest Levertov’s pilgrimage from wonder to worship. She remakes the language of religious thought into something sharp and lively. In this collection, as in her career of half a century, Denise Levertov demonstrates a willingness to push in many directions, to reach out for what life offers, and beyond.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXV, October 26, 1996, p. 24.

Booklist. XCII, April 1, 1996, p. 1339.

Commonweal. CXXIII, December 20, 1996, p. 23.

Library Journal. CXXI, May 1, 1996, p. 97.

Philadelphia Inquirer. May 19, 1996, p. K7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, February 26, 1996, p. 101.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, July 7, 1996, p. 2.