Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Denise Levertov: The Ache of Marriage

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,   
are heavy with it,   
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,   
each and each

It is leviathan and we   
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy   
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of   
the ache of it.

”The Ache of Marriage” by Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1964 by Denise Levertov. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

Born in Ilford, England, Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997) emigrated to the United States in 1947. She wrote and published 24 books of poetry, criticism and translations, as well as editing several anthologies. Among her many awards and honors, she received the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Lannan Award, a Catherine Luck Memorial Grant, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Levertov wrote poems about a wide variety of subjects, including marriage, nature, and spirituality. During the 1960s and 70s, Levertov became politically active in her life and work. As poetry editor for The Nation, she was able to support and publish the work of feminist and other leftist activist poets. The Vietnam War was an especially important focus of her poetry, which often tried to weave together the personal and political, as in her poem “The Sorrow Dance,” which speaks of her sister’s death. Also in response to the Vietnam War, Levertov joined the War Resisters League, and in 1968 signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war. Levertov was a founding member of the anti-war collective RESIST along with Noam Chomsky, Mitchell Goodman, William Sloane Coffin, and Dwight Macdonald. Levertov is widely regarded as one of the most important American poets of the 20th century, and today many poets and artists find inspiration in the example she set as a poet-activist. [bio adapted from Wikipedia and The Poetry Foundation]

2 comments on “Denise Levertov: The Ache of Marriage

  1. allisonfine
    October 9, 2020

    Discovered her when I was 12 in 1961. Loved her always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Vincent Spina
    October 9, 2020

    Easy to understand: this ache

    Liked by 1 person

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