Levertov’s gift for details is matched by the way she can make yearnings and ideas seem almost physical, as if she had them in the palm of her hand.

Village Voice Literary Supplement

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov was born in 1923 in London and educated at home by her mother. Her formal education ended at age twelve, though she studied ballet for a time thereafter and was a lifelong autodidact and student of the arts, literature and languages. Her first book of poems, The Double Image, was published by Cresset Press, London in 1946 and in 1948 she came to the U.S. as the wife of Mitchell Goodman, who had been studying in Europe on the G.I. Bill.

Levertov was introduced to the American reading public through The New British Poets, an anthology edited by Kenneth Rexroth and published by New Directions. From the early 1950s, she and her husband were political and antiwar activists. Levertov taught at University of Massachusetts, Boston, Tufts University, and at Brandeis. For a time, she taught part of the year at Brandeis and the other part at Stanford University, which she also received tenure from. Along with the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award in poetry and the Lannan Prize, she won the 1996 Governor’s Writers Award, from the Washington State Commission for the Humanities. She died of lymphoma on December 20, 1997, in Seattle and is survived by her son Nikolai Goodman. Levertov published more than thirty books with New Directions.

cover image of the book The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov

The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov

How splendid and impressive to have a complete, clear, and unobstructed view of Denise Levertov. Covering more than six decades and including, chronologically, every poem she ever published, Levertov’s Collected Poems presents her marvelous, groundbreaking work in full.

Born in England, Denise Levertov emigrated in 1948 to the United States, where she was acclaimed by Kenneth Rexroth in The New York Times as “the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” A staunch anti-war activist and environmentalist, and the winner of the Robert Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Lannan Prize, Denise Levertov inspired generations of writers. New Directions is proud to publish this landmark collected poems of one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets.

Listen to the audio book version of a selection from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov.

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Making Peace

Denise Levertov achieved recognition as a poet at a young age, winning the admiration of such older poets as T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. Though she initially drew a line between her poetic works and her commitment to peace and justice, the Vietnam War inspired a change, and at the time of her death in 1997, she was acclaimed not only for her poetry, but also for her political engagement. Making Peace collects Levertov’s finest poems about war and peace, subjects which she addresses with passion and nuance. Spanning the last three decades of her life, their subjects range from Vietnam to the death-squads of El Salvador to the first Gulf War. Often brutally vivid—in “The Certainty” she writes, “war / means blood spilling from living bodies”—Levertov’s poems always have at their core her love for humanity, even as she registers her horror at what humans do to one another. Introduced by Levertov scholar Peggy Rosenthal, these poems mirror the destruction that we witness today, but they also hold within them, as Levertov writes, “a small grain of hope.”

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Selected Poems of Denise Levertov

Drawing on six decades of her writing life, this Selected Poems offers a chronological overview of Denise Levertov’s great body of work. Here at last is a clear, unobstructed view of her groundbreaking poetry — the work of a poet who, as Kenneth Rexroth put it, “more than anyone, led the redirection of American poetry … to the mainstream of world literature.”

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cover image of the book Poems 1972-1982

Poems 1972-1982

Here, for the first time in a single edition, are three of Denise Levertov’s finest books: The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982). This new compilation – beginning where Denise Levertov’s Poems 1968-1972 left off– testifies not only to Levertov’s technical mastery, but also to her spiritual vision. Some of Levertov’s best war poems, the result of her visit to North Vietnam in 1972, are contained in this marvelous collection. Poems 1972-1982 enables readers to observe a crucial phase in Levertov’s poetic development. At the same time, it illuminates Robert Creeley’s assessment that she “was a constantly defining presence in the world we shared, a remarkable and transforming poet for all of us.”

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This Great Unknowing

When Denise Levertov died on December 20, 1997, she left behind forty finished poems which form her last collection, This Great Unknowing. Few poets have possessed so great a gift or so great a body of work––upon her death at age 74, she had been a published poet for more than half a century. Although the poems of This Great Unknowing were not organized by Levertov herself, as were the twenty collections she published with New Directions in her lifetime, the poems themselves shine with the artistry of a writer at the height of her powers.

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The Letters Of Denise Levertov And William Carlos Williams

The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams is the most engaging and lively of literary correspondences – at once a portrait of two geniuses the testimony of their remarkable friendship, and a seedbed of ideas about American poetry. With a 1951 fan letter, the young British poet introduced herself to Williams, and by 1959, Williams is congratulating Levertov on her growth: “this book challenge[s] me so that I am glad I am not younger…. You have not always written so excellently…. I am going to read these first half-dozen poems – maybe more – until as an old man I have penetrated to where your secret is hid.” The letters also chronicle their search (individually and together) for a set of formal poetic principles, a search which culminated for Levertov in 1965, when she coined the term “organic form.” The warmth, the directness, the flavorsome individuality of the letters – 34 from Levertov and 42 from Williams – increased with their growing intimacy and mutual regard. Always intriguing, their independent-minded letters, which end with the elder poet’s death in 1962, have great piquancy and charm. Denise Levertov herself initiated this project, and was then, in the year before her death, “fascinated to read the exchange.” This edition also includes the correspondence between Levertov and Williams’s widow Florence. Professor Christopher MacGowan, the noted Williams scholar, contributes a superb introduction and informative annotations throughout.

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Sands of the Well

_Sands of the Well _shows Denise Levertov at the height of her powers — and graced with new depths of awe. In eight sections — “Crow Spring,” “Sojourns in the Parallel World,” “It Should be Visible,” “Anamnesis,” “Representations,” “Raga,” “A South Wind,” and “Close to a Lake” — Sands of the Well addresses the natural world, music, memory, aging, and belief. Her long study of the nature of spiritual insight here finds an ever more active professed engagement. In Sands of the Well Levertov allows the reader to sense the complexity under her perfect clarity of surface, and her music and precision bear us along to a new awareness of the “Primary Wonder."

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The Life Around Us

As Denise Levertov comments in her brief foreword to The Life Around Us, she has “shared with most poets in every time and place an ardent love of what my eyes and other senses revealed to me in the world we call nature. Yet in this selection of sixty-two poems chosen by the author “celebration and fear of loss are necessarily conjoined.” The Life Around Us shows us both the eternal renewal of the natural world and its imperilment: “In these last few decades of the 20th century it has become ever clearer to all thinking people that although we humans are a part of nature ourselves, we have become, in multifarious ways, an increasingly destructive element within it, shaking and breaking ’the great web’—perhaps irremediably.”

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The Stream And The Sapphire

Conceived as a convenience to those readers who are themselves concerned with doubt and faith, The Stream & the Sapphire presents a compact thematic grouping of thirty-eight poems, originally published in seven separate volumes. The earliest poem here dates from 1978, and though the sequence is not wholly chronological, “it does,” as Denise Levertov remarks in her brief Foreword, “to some extent, trace my slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith, a movement incorporating much of doubt and questioning as well as affirmation.”

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Tesserae, the small individual pieces of glass or stone that make up a mosaic, is an apt title for this series of memoirs by Denise Levertov. Rather than being a completed autobiography, these collected memoirs are, for the author, fragments of an unfinished mosaic. Each of the twenty-seven pieces of Tesserae explores a memory vital to Levertov’s life; each is complete in itself and set here chronologically. And, as in any good mosaic, each piece reflects at different angles creating a play of light which gives this self-portrait its living complexity. Tesserae offers for the first time the unique memoirs of “a poet who may just be the finest writing in English today.” (Kirkus Reviews).

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Evening Train

At her most moving and meditative, impressive and musical, Denise Levertov addresses in her poetry collection, Evening Train, the nature of faith and love, the imperiled beauty of the natural world, and the horrors of the Gulf War.

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Selected Essays of Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov’s New & Selected Essays gathers three decades’ worth of the poet’s most important critical statements. Her subjects are various-––poetics, the imagination, politics, spirituality, other writers––and her approach independent minded and richly complex. Here in a single volume are recent essays exploring new ground broken by Levertov in the past decade as well as the finest and most useful prose pieces from The Poet in the World (1973) and Light Up the Cave (1981). This is a book to read and reread. With their combination of sensitivity and practicality, the New & Selected Essays will prove enormously helpful to the writer and reader of poetry. As Kirkus Reviews remarked about her prose: “This is humanism in its true sense––her attitude as evidenced (not described) by her writing is such that the reader cannot help but experience life, at least temporarily, with more intensity, joy, and imagination.”

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A Door In The Hive

In her sixteenth collection of new poetry from New Directions, Denise Levertov displays what The Village Voice has called all her “virtues of musicality, mystery, and directness." A Door in the Hive addresses paintings, music, landscapes, terror in El Salvador, but the emphasis again––as in her recent Breathing the Water––is on the contemplative. Her dialogue between “the eager inward gaze and the vast enigma” deepens. Meditative, the poems are at the same time informed by a keenly felt urgency: “Extremities, we are in/unacknowledged extremis./We feel only/a chill as the pulse of life/recedes.”

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Breathing The Water

Arranged in seven parts and culminating in the superb “The Showings: Lady Julian of Norwich,” Breathing the Water draws the readers deep into spiritual domains––not in order to leave the world behind, but to reanimate our sometimes dormant love for it.

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cover image of the book Poems 1968-1972

Poems 1968-1972

Denise Levertov’s Poems 1968-1972 gathers together all the poems from Relearning the Alphabet (1970), To Stay Alive (1971), and Footprints (1972). Testifying to Levertov’s growing strength and technical mastery as a poet, Poems 1968-1972 also affirms the clarity of her vision in its resistance to the Vietnam War and its “opposition to the whole system of insane greed of which war is only the inevitable expression.”

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Oblique Prayers

Over the years, Denise Levertov’s poetry has moved ever more deeply into the realm of meditation, while yet speaking with the familiar voice of “the poet in the world.” Oblique Prayers is arranged in four thematic sections that, taken together, work toward a mature philosophy in equal harmony with public activism and private reflection. A personal mood links the poems of “Decipherings.” In “Prisoners," the poet addresses the continuing horrors of our dark time: genocide, imperialism, impending nuclear holocaust––human degradation in brutal political guise. Levertov is an accomplished translator. With “Fourteen Poems by Jean Joubert,” she introduces English-speaking readers to a contemporary French poet whose work is remarkably akin to her own. “Of God and of the Gods,” the final section of the book, is informed by a transcendent lyricism that can equate in a breath “a day of spring, a needle’s eye.”

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cover image of the book Poems 1960-1967

Poems 1960-1967

Denise Levertov’s Poems 1960-1967 brings together all of the poetry first published in The Jacob’s Ladder (1961), O Taste and See (1964), and The Sorrow Dance (1967). This new compilation, beginning where her Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960 (New Directions, 1979) left off, shows both a refining of the poet’s craft and a widening of her concerns.” We are living our whole lives in a state of emergency,” she wrote in 1967. Levertov’s staunch antiwar stand is reflected here in such poems as “Life at War” and “What Were They Like?” with what Kenneth Rexroth called “the special luster of a sensibility that never sacrifices humaneness to intensity.” Side by side with her poetry of protest is that of celebration—“Song for Ishtar,” “Come into Animal Presence,” “ Luxury”—and tolerance for “The Mutes” uttering “those groans men use/passing a woman on the street…to tell her she is female” as well as for “The Ache of Marriage.” Here also are a meditation “During the Eichmann Trial,” “Olga Poems” (a sequence in memoriam), and “Say the Word,” the poet’s first published story.

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Candles In Babylon

Denise Levertov’s Candles in Babylon evinces both the inner strength gained by a life of social commitment and the quiet wisdom born of solitude. The seventy-one poems in the book—her first full collection since Life in the Forest (1978)— are grouped into several thematic sections that explore by turns the subtleties in the shifting balance between our public and private selves, the poet’s voice ranging from the wry satire of her “Pig Dreams” sequence to the resonant grandeur of her six-part “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus.” Behind it all is the gentle melancholy of the title poem and the poet’s vision of peace.

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Light Up the Cave

Light Up the Cave is the poet Denise Levertov’s second book of prose. Like her first, The Poet in the World (1973), it includes fiction, essays, and articles, and addresses a wide range of concerns, both public and private. The collection is divided into six parts, opening with three short stories. The second section, “The Nature of Poetry,” contains pieces about craft, with particular focus on the musical function of the line, as well as the ethical implications of poetry. In the third and fourth sections (“Poetry and Politics” and “Political Commentary”) Levertov discusses the relationship of poets to politics and adds some of her own political statements. Recollections of Robert Duncan, the late Muriel Rukeyser, and Herbert Read, as well as of Levertov’s early years and her adventurous Welsh mother, make up section five. The collection concludes with the poet’s appreciations of the work of several other writers, from Anton Chekhov to Hilda Morley.

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cover image of the book Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960

Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960

Denise Levertov’s Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960 brings under one cover the first published works of a poet who, though born and raised in Great Britain, has long held a distinctive place in postwar American letters. Initiating a major literary undertaking, the volume includes a group of hitherto ungathered poems, selections from Ms. Levertov’s earliest book, The Double Image (1946), published in London, and her three following collections in their entirety: Here and Now (1957), Overland to the Islands (1958), and With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (1960). Living in the United States since the late 1940s, Ms. Levertov has often been associated with the Black Mountain poets, while from the mid- 1960s onward she has been one of the foremost activists in the antiwar and anti-nuclear movements. Yet even in her more “political” poems, her dominant perception has continued to be of the intricate beauty, the mystery of life as it is lived. In announcing Ms. Levertov the winner of the 1975 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, Hayden Carruth said of her: “For twenty-five years Denise Levertov has been one of our most prominent poets… Today she is a woman at the crest of her maturity, acute in perceptions, wise in responses, and an artist, moreover, whose technique has kept pace with her personal development.” With Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960, readers have the opportunity of following Ms. Levertov’s remarkable poetic development from its very beginnings.

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Life In The Forest

Life in the Forest is Denise Levertov’s first major collection since the publication in 1975 of The Freeing of the Dust, winner of the Leonore Marshall Poetry Prize, and is her eleventh book with New Directions, in a connection of nearly twenty years’ standing. Ms. Levertov’s work holds that tenuous yet inspiring ground between reflection and discourse. The dynamics of this sensitive balance is pointed up in Life in the Forest by a thematic grouping which invites internal association from poem to poem and section to section. “The poems I had been moving towards,” she explains, “were impelled by two forces: first, a recurring need…to vary a habitual lyric mode; not to abandon it, by any means, but from time to time explore more expansive means; and second, the decision to try to avoid over use of the autobiographical, the dominant first-person singular of so much American poetry—good and bad—of recent years.”

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The Freeing Of The Dust

In the sixty poems that comprise The Freeing of the Dust, Denise Levertov continues to explore the personal and public themes that have threaded through her work in the past several years. The disastrous American involvement in Indochina, relations with family and close friends, are depicted with unique poignancy as she pits the at times terrifying concrete image against her vision of the ideal. Here we have poems that speak out of the direct tragedy of war, the result of Ms. Levertov’s visit to North Vietnam in the fall of 1972, while others reflect the anguish and the exultation of what she has called the “inner/outer experience in America during the 60s and the beginning of the 70s…” The Freeing of the Dust is the tenth book of verse by the woman Kenneth Rexroth has named “the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.”

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About two thirds of the poems in Denise Levertov’s Footprints were written concurrently with the long “notebook” poem that began to take shape in Relearning the Alphabet (1970) and reached full expression in To Stay Alive (1971), to which it lent its name. Most of the remaining material was composed subsequently. Readers familiar with these previous volumes, so emphatically political in theme, will discover a more reflective tone, indeed a note which touches on the mystical, pervading this newest collection. The antiwar motif, however, is by no means lacking. And in such poems as “Overheard over S. E. Asia” and “The Day the Audience Walked Out on Me, and Why” the strength of Miss Levertov’s social commitment is, as always, given powerful utterance.

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Relearning The Alphabet

Miss Levertov’s work has always been notable for its technical perfection––her unique control of verbal tone, line patterns and structure––but Relearning the Alphabet contains an impressive new dimension: an enlargement of scale, and an assurance, that have led her to poems of greater length and even deeper social commitment than she had attempted before. Many of her themes may still be personal––the loss of a friend’s child, a snail’s vision, a flea from a loving dog, her responses to nature––but more are now public: the Vietnam War, Biafra, ghetto riots, the battle of the Berkeley People’s Park in which she took part. Denise Levertov is a frequent speaker on college campuses, and has been actively involved in the Resistance movement. This experience of the counter culture is powerfully present in her new poems; it has made her an eloquent spokesman for the new American revolution.

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The Jacob’s Ladder

Denise Levertov is surely one of the most impressive of the younger poets writing in English today. Her earlier books (Here and Now, Overland to the Islands, With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads) were notable on several counts: technically, for her fine ear and her skill with free but controlled forms; in their substance, for the intensity––and clarity––of her very personal vision. These qualities persist in The Jacob’s Ladder, and to them has been added––particularly in the powerful sequence on themes suggested by the Eichmann trial––a larger social concern, a more penetrating identification with the great problems of humanity. In addition, thirteen poems from the now out-of-print earlier volume Overland to the Islands are included by courtesy of Jonathan Williams, the original publisher.

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With Eyes At The Back Of Our Heads

Miss Levertov’s third book of poetry, With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads, is now reissued as a paperbook. M. L. Rosenthal said of it, “She gives it’s a world of awakened, contemplated selfhood,” and Donald Hall: “She handles the movement of free verse with consistent brilliance.” The collection opens with a translation from an ancient Toltec Codex, a poem on The Artist. “The true artist,’’ wrote the Toltec poet, ’’maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.’’ Heart and mind are wonderfully evident in Denise Levertov’s poems––heart in the intensity of feeling, mind in the vigor and clarity of her statements. Sensitivity… delicacy without softness… a kind of imagination which eliminates all but the essence… a metric which conceals the strict discipline which gives it its grace––these are a few of the qualities that distinguish the work of Denise Levertov and make her one of the most impressive among the younger poets writing today.

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Levertov’s gift for details is matched by the way she can make yearnings and ideas seem almost physical, as if she had them in the palm of her hand.

Village Voice Literary Supplement

Her art opens new dimensions of object and situation that but for it we would never have known.

Ralph J. Mills Jr., *Contemporary American Poetry *

Her imagination is always religiously open, and it always responds to what touches it awake. It is a quick, luminous mind, protected by wisdom…

James Wright

Levertov continues to be one of the indispensable poets of our language, one of those few writers to whom it is necessary to pay attention.

The Malahat Review

At once as intimate as Creeley and as visionary as Duncan … Levertov has always written a poetry that ranges from the specifically personal to the searchingly mystical.

Publishers Weekly

A touchstone, a maintainer for our generation. Denise Levertov was a constantly defining presence in the world we shared, a remarkable and transforming poet for all of us.

Robert Creeley

This Great Unknowing … displays the passion, lyrical prowess, and spiritual jubilation that filled Levertov’s final days … [her] last words are honey and fire on the tongue.


Her poems bring joy to the ear and, by their transcendental shimmer, inspire a spiritual hunger.

The Bloomsbury Review

A purely numinous and transcendent poetry where subject and object seem one and divinely inspired. Long recognized as one of our best and most influential poets, Levertov is nonetheless seriously undervalued.

Publishers Weekly

One of the most vitally innovative of contemporary poets.

World Literature Today

Book by book, I have read her poems for their subtle music, for their imagination, for their author’s dignity and integrity and grace; and most of all, for the indomitable and humble spirit that hungers there.

The American Poetry Review

In every time there are just a few poets whose work–for its sheer lyric conscience–carries poetry safely into the future. Denise Levertov, as this book shows, is one of them.

Eavan Boland

Denise Levertov fulfills the eternal mission of the true Poet: to be a receptacle of Divine Grace and a ‘spendor of that Grace to humanity.’

World Literature Today

A poet of intense emotion and fervid political conviction.

The New York Times

I have always admired Denise Levertov’s poetry. Her sparse, sinuous language reminds me of an artist who is able to suggest a face, the entire mystery of a gesture, with a single, uninterrupted pencil stroke.

Paul Zweig, Nation

Denise Levertov has evolved a style of her own, clear, sparse, immediate and vibrant with a very special sensibility and completely feminine insight. She is the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.

Kenneth Rexroth, The New York Times Book Review

Levertov’s mastery—more than mastery, because she is one of the originators—of contemporary poetic form, informed with a fierce, generous intelligence, can be frightening.

Ursula Le Guin, Washington Post

Levertov is a poet of flexibility, depth, and imaginative growth. She has become one of those figures around whom a large part of our sense of what has occurred in American poetry in the past fifteen years or so revolves.

Parnassus: Poetry in Review

Levertov continues to be one of the indispensable poets of our language, one of those few writers to whom it is necessary to pay attention.

Stephen Scobie, Malahat Review

[Denise Levertov] was one of the most defining poets of her generation… She will be missed sorely.

Robert Haas, Washington Post

I have savored her poems like salt, like honey.

Sam Hamill, The American Poetry Review

As in her poetry, Levertov’s descriptions and characterizations can be flawless; her ability to relate an incident is at once timeless and immediate, boundless and searingly personal. ‘These tesserae have no pretensions,’ Levertov notes. She is right–these lovely, lyrical remembrances are too true and spare ever to invite such criticism.

Publishers Weekly
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