Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Denise Levertov: Testimonies of the Lived Life

By Lacey, Paul A. | Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Denise Levertov: Testimonies of the Lived Life


Lacey, Paul A., Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature


IN "Some Affinities of Content" (1991) Denise Levertov speaks of a "deep spiritual Longing" in writers and readers which makes irrelevant the kind of literary criticism "which treats works of art as if they were diagrams or merely means provided for the exercise of analysis, rather than what they are: testimonies of the lived life, which is what writers have a vocation to give, and readers ... have a need to receive" (New and Selected Essays 20-21). We now have a significant and growing body of critical work on Levertov's religious poetry, well represented in the essay collections edited by Albert Gelpi and by Linda Wagner-Martin and in this journal (Renascence 50.1-2, Fall 1997/Winter 1998) devoted to "Spirit in the Poetry of Denise Levertov." I hope to supplement that rich criticism by exploring both some "affinities of content" and some analogues between Levertov's poetic practice and the meditative practices taught in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, which Levertov herself undertook in fall 1993 and winter 1994. Then, using that framework I will focus on her poem, "Conversion of Brother Lawrence" (Sands of the Well 111-13) as one particular testimony of the lived life, expressed and mediated through her poetic craft.

Levertov loved to explore what she called the borderland of art, the interface between form and content, where we can see the brush-strokes or "penciled understrokes," smell the turpentine, delight in the craft itself, at the same time discerning the large patterns, the fictive truths, the whole world of vision. Such a borderland is the place of double vision, the place where process and product interconnect, where she typically locates the artist, the pilgrim, the wanderer, the mystic and the saint--all reflections of a single archetype, as the journey of art and the journey of faith become, for her, reflections of a single life on a pilgrimage from relinquishment to transformation:

   ... when I'm following the road of imagination (following a leading, as the
   Quakers say), both in the decisions of a day and in the word-by-word,
   line-by-line decisions of a poem in the making, I've come to see certain
   analogies, and also some interaction, between the journey of art and the
   journey of faith. (New and Selected Essays 248-49)

She calls every poem an "act of faith," in the sense that it is "a venture into the unknown," and in that the move from improvising on poetic themes and ideas to actual writing "resembles moving from intellectual assent to opening the acts of daily life to permeation by religious faith" (New and Selected Essays 249). The implied analogy here is with St. Augustine's distinction of the conversion of the intellect which precedes but is incomplete without the subsequent conversion of the will to Christian faith. In her 1990 essay "Work that Enfaiths" she describes her Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus as a poem which "began as an experiment in structure" and an attempt at "do-it-yourself theology" aimed at clarifying her mind on questions of belief. In that complex process of imagination, apperception, thinking/feeling, feeling/thinking, as she elsewhere describes it, and through enacting in the poetry the contention of belief with disbelief, she came to Christian faith. "The experience of writing the poem--that long swim through waters of unknown depth--had been also a conversion process, if you will" (New and Selected Essays 249-50).

She cites subsequent writings--her libretto El Salvador, the poems "Standoff," "The Task," and those which "explored passages of Julian of Norwich and passages of the Gospel"--which have "brought me a little bit closer to faith as distinct from mere shaky belief." This she calls "work that enfaiths" (New and Selected Essays 250-55). What she says late in her life about this exploratory function of poetry gathers up and extends some of her richest and earliest insights. In "The Sense of Pilgrimage" (1967) she calls humans ".

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Denise Levertov: Testimonies of the Lived Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.