In "To the Muse" it was a figure of speech. In "The Goddess" that was the Goddess of Truth, not the muse as some readers seem to have thought. And in "She and the Muse" I was having fun with the idea of lovers as muses. I would consider it impertinent, if not blasphemous, to claim the Holy Spirit as a muse!
JSB: Many of your writings—that poignant sketch of initiation, "When Anna Screamed," the elegies for Olga and your mother and Muriel Rukeyser, the marriage and divorce poems and "A Woman's Document," the poems about women as hypocrites and men as deaf-mutes—these and more deal with your consciousness of yourself and others as female. Could you comment on your evolving sense of yourself as female and perhaps say how these special gendered experiences have shaped your epistemology, your spirituality?
DL: I can't really address this question. I have always simply taken for granted the fact that I am female, and I have never understood the problems of consciousness of gender which seem to have become prevalent.
To me the question which of course others have asked me sometimes is as baffling as it would be to be asked how my life has been affected by having brown eyes. JSB: Much has been made of the neo-Romantic origins of your work. But what about the old Romantics? You once mentioned that in your youth you enjoyed reading Wordsworth, Keats, and Tennyson.
You refer to Keats in your essays, especially to Negative Capability and to this world as the Vale of Soulmaking. You often refer to Wordsworth too. His natural supernaturalism, his insistence on presence, his experience of joy in the things of this world, his emphasis on the role of the imagination in cognition—all of these seem important in your work.
How do you understand your kinship as an artist with the greater Romantics, and most especially could you comment on your reading of and attitude toward Wordsworth?
DL: My early and abiding love of Keats and Wordsworth is inseparable from my early and equally abiding love for the English countryside. In the case of Keats, the other strong factors were the sensuous music of his poetry which is what I also enjoyed in Tennyson and—when I got into my teens—the personality so vivid in his letters.
And in his attitude to poetry. In the case of Wordsworth, certain lines have great music too, but as you well know, Wordsworth walks and Keats dances. I loved the details of nature in Wordsworth, and the evocation of rich solitude, and much else. I took in and absorbed much of his more philosophical content unconsciously. Keep in mind that I was and remained a solitary reader, unexposed thank God to academic requirements and critiques and analyses.
JSB: In a interview with Ian Reid, you defined the imagination as "the power of perceiving analogies and of extending this power from the observed to the surmised. The poet sees, and reveals in language, what is present but hidden—what Goethe. If so, in what way is it creative?
Is there a sense, as Wordsworth claimed there was, in which the imagination in the process of perceiving actually creates life out of the dust? DL: I would stand by what I said in But, yes, I also see the imagination as creative—it combines the analogies and "open secrets" it perceives and fashions from them new works.
This, I believe, is the act of synthesis that Coleridge called "esemplastic power. This is what the famous dictum "Poetry is not made of ideas but of words" means. And William Carlos Williams' "No ideas but in things" likewise includes among "things" the physical entity, language.
JSB: You also say in this fascinating discussion that imagination is inextricable from doing, from process, that just as the painter only sees when he is painting, the poet only sees when he is writing—"the vision is given in the work process.
How, if at all, does this emphasis on love, in Keats's and Hazlitt's terms, on sympathy, fit into your present thinking about the imagination? DL: I think the state, rather than the act, that Wordsworth refers to and I would relate this to your other allusions also—"unified sensibility," "love," "sympathy," etc.
JSB: One more question about the imagination please. A dozen years after the Reid interview, you write about the imagination from the point of view of a Christian poet. And, again, your comments seem extraordinarily rich.
If in you were saying, "I imagine that I may know," here you seem to extend it to "I imagine that I may believe. Now this seems clear enough in the case of Julian of Norwich, as your wonderful sequence, your own Showing, reveals.
But for poets who are not mystics, and for the rest of us, could you comment, please, on what seems to be a vital point: the connection between imagination and faith? DL: I am certainly not a mystic! So I have no way of knowing how mystics' faith related to their imagination, other than what anyone can deduce from their testimony.
For a poet and poets don't tend to be mystics: the poetic and mystic modes of experience are quite different, I think, though some mystics may also be poets , imagination which, obviously, comes with the territory is a prerequisite for faith, though all poets must have imagination and only some have faith.
Poets are typically too mentally active and questioning to have the kind of faith that is an extension of trust, the kind of faith a simple and perhaps uneducated, or at least unsophisticated, person may have, the faith of "un coeur simple. So if they do attain faith, it must involve the imagination. It is perhaps their substitute for the childlike direct assumptions of the naturally pure in heart JSB: In "A Poet's View" you describe something that was becoming evident in your poems, especially in Candles in Babylon, Oblique Prayers, and Breathing the Water—a movement from an altar to the unknown gods to an awareness of God capital G to an understanding of "God as revealed in the Incarnation.
JSB: In "Origins of a Poem" you suggest that art is an incarnational experience, an act of "realizing inner experience in material substance" The Poet in the World. And in "A Poet's View" you reaffirm that your aesthetics are incarnational. In a essay you mention that you have come to appreciate Four Quartets. When she was twelve, Levertov secretly sold the Daily Worker, a socialist paper, on the streets—a practice she abandoned as foolish and presumptuous after she saw the despair of the unemployed at close range.
The drawing refers to the time Brother Juniper went to Rome where his reputation for holiness was widespread. In , after her marriage to the American writer and novelist, Mitchell Goodman, the couple moved to the United States, and in their only child, Nikolai, was born. In she became a naturalized citizen.
She began reading a group of poets called the Black Mountain Poets, and soon afterwards began to work in open-verse forms.
Her outrage and compassion grew as she contemplated the Detroit Riots, the napalmed children of Vietnam, the forgotten starving children of Biafra.
Levertov felt that language itself was being eroded by the Vietnam War because it was used to justify atrocities.
I was unaware of her activist, anti-Vietnam War stance when I first read her volume of essays, Poet in the World. Her words acted like catalysts to my own writing. Denise Levertov. I assumed the book, In Cuba, with its curious inscription, was a practical joke the student friars were playing on me. We corresponded regularly; and a few years before she died, I spent three days at her home in Seattle, during which time she vetted a volume of poems I was working on, and we talked of her recent conversion to Catholicism, of our time together at the nuclear test site in Nevada, and of the life and martyrdom of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
In Levertov, my father, and I had traveled to Las Vegas to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero by praying and making a weekend retreat with many others at the Nevada nuclear test site. She had become a witness to more than the craft and art of poetry. Her presence during the retreat was the catalyst for my own willingness to cross onto United States Government property and be arrested along with Levertov and others while my father stood on the other side of the line, saluting our decision by standing at attention.
Levertov once said that the role of the poet is to witness, to not only reveal the divine beauty, as Rilke did, but to release the divine beauty. That is what she did for us at the Nevada test site. Her words and her presence released the beauty and the sacredness of the land we were standing on and which was being violated by underground nuclear testing. A line of peace might appear if we restructured the sentences our lives are making, … an energy field more intense than war, might pulse then, stanza by stanza into the world, each act of living one of its words, each word a vibration of light—facets of the forming crystal.
She contemplates the horrors of war, the oppression of people, the inequalities she sees around her, and she is moved to action, not only through making poems of what she sees, but through personal action. Levertov joined anti-war protest groups; her husband Mitchell Goodman was arrested with Dr.
Benjamin Spock for counseling draft resisters. And all the while she was writing poems of protest that centered on calamitous public and political realities and which seemed a radical departure from her previous poems of quiet personal epiphany derived from contemplation of her immediate personal world.
Gradually, however, it became clear that this was not a radical departure. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were two pioneer poets from the Romantic Era, that introduced new, freer styles of writing to modern poetry at the time. Both Whitman and Dickinson have similar ideas in their writing, but each has a unique touch of expression in their works.
Emily gives reference to the theme by using "death" in the first line. The poem is unique and interesting because she presents Death in a different way by referring to it as an escort taking her on a journey towards eternity rather than making it seem like something frightening.
Dickinson, who was known to be quite the recluse, lived and died in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, spending the majority of her days alone in her room writing poetry. What few friends she did have would testify that Dickinson was a rather introverted and melancholy person, which shows in a number of her poems where regular themes include death and mortality. As discouraging as this outlook on death may appear, it is captivating why Emily Dickinson preferred to make death one among the major themes of her poems.So I have no way of knowing how mystics' faith related to their imagination, other than what anyone can deduce from their testimony. Have you come, as many Christian poets have, to recognize in poetic inspiration a place for the Holy Spirit? In the poem, the narrator describes major landmarks that have made an impact on her life, as well as provides a description of her final resting place. In the sixties she and her American husband were deeply involved in the peace movement in this country, and her work from this period, including The Sorrow Dance, Relearning the Alphabet, and Staying Alive, exhibits the courage of one who believes in coherence between one's values and one's action.
I took in and absorbed much of his more philosophical content unconsciously. JSB: Many of your writings—that poignant sketch of initiation, "When Anna Screamed," the elegies for Olga and your mother and Muriel Rukeyser, the marriage and divorce poems and "A Woman's Document," the poems about women as hypocrites and men as deaf-mutes—these and more deal with your consciousness of yourself and others as female. Has your muse changed in character over the years? Celtic traditions believe that the original harmony of the world is still to be found in the sounds of nature. Levertov has gathered most of the poems from these first three decades of her career into three collections, the first including most poems from to , the second from to , and the third from to
But that physical problem was peripheral to why she sometimes seemed hesitant in her speech. Both Whitman and Dickinson have similar ideas in their writing, but each has a unique touch of expression in their works. Emily Dickinson's love affair with words fed her desire to master their use whether individually or combined in phrases until they said exactly what she wanted them to say. No more, no less.