Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Levertov begins her poetry collection Oblique Prayers with a note explaining that the book and the sections within it represent a thematic rather than a chronological order. The order of the fourth and final section, “Of God and Of the Gods,” seems to represent the Judeo-Christian Creation story: not just the initial Creation of the biblical account but also an active and continuous creation that finds completion in the individual believer’s life. “The Task” stands exactly at the center of the fifteen poems that comprise this final section and can be fully understood only in its relationship to the others. The first seven poems account for the creation of the natural world: of rivers, of “earth-gods,” of trees and flowers. In most of these poems, God is designated as unknowable, at least to “the gods.” In “The Avowal,” God is named “Creator Spirit” and man is placed in the natural context. In the next poem, “The God of Flowers” (which precedes “The Task”), though the god of flowers cannot know God, her work pleases him and he “watches and smiles.”

Levertov has referred to God and the gods in poems written before this collection, notably in Candles in Babylon (1982), and has written much overtly Christian poetry since; however, “The Task” was her most explicit and most nearly orthodox poem about God at the time of its publication. The poem implies much about the character and work of God. That God...

(The entire section is 568 words.)