Selected by Dan Clendenin

Denise Levertov (1923–1997)


I had grasped God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
The ‘everlasting arms’ my sister liked to remember
must have upheld my leaden weight
from falling, even so,
for though I claw at empty air and feel
nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummetted.

Denise Levertov was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. Her father, who had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. She moved to the United States in 1948, and in 1955 became an American citizen. By the time she died in 1997, Levertov had published nearly fifty volumes of poetry, prose, and translations. Levertov taught at Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, Stanford, and the University of Washington. It was at Stanford, where she taught for 11 years (1982–1993) in the Stegner Fellowship program, and where her papers are now housed, that Levertov converted to Christianity at the age of sixty. After moving to Seattle in 1989, she joined the Catholic Church.

For Levertov’s poetry, see Paul A. Lacey and Anne Dewey (editors), with an Introduction by Eavan Boland, The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New York: New Directions, 2013), 1063pp.

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