Denise Levertov developed her theology as she wrote her poems. She sought to capture the truth of experience in poetry and gradually moved from skepticism to faith as she discovered truth in Christianity. Her father, Paul Levertoff, was an Anglican priest of Russian Jewish descent, and her mother, Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertoff, was a devout Welsh Christian. Both parents descended from highly religious families that embraced a variety of Judeo-Christian mysticism that informs much of Levertov’s poetry, especially in her sensitive treatment of nature.
While many of Levertov’s poems treat religious or spiritual themes, some of her most overly religious ones are captured in The Stream and the Sapphire. The title of the collection is taken from her poem “Flickering Mind.” The persona in this poem presents herself as a minnow whose flittering in the stream of time makes her comprehension of God—the unchanging mover of history, the gleaming sapphire in the stream—difficult. This title piece emphasizes the theme of faith seeking to reach beyond the paradoxes of experience, a theme most of the poems echo.
Levertov placed the poems in this collection in roughly chronological order and divided them into four main sections: “The Tide,” “Believers,” “Conjectures,” and “Fish and a Honeycomb.” The poems in “The Tide,” named after one of the poems in this section, deal with the ebb and flow of faith. The opening poem, “Human Being,” articulates Levertov’s skeptical questions about why innocent children and animals suffer, but concludes with a word of thanks for the gift of life. The philosophical problem of pain was the first hurdle Levertov had to overcome before accepting belief in God.
In this first section, “Psalm Fragments (Schnittke String Trio)” and “Suspended” examine the paradox of faith in a God who is difficult to discover in a fallen and sinful world, but who nonetheless does not allow believers in God...
(The entire section is 813 words.)