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Denise Levertov Quotes

October 24, 1923 - December 20, 1997


The poet Denise Levertov, raised in Britain, worked and lived in America through most of her career. Her poetry is notable for its social content, particularly feminism and themes of peace. In her later poems, she turned to religious themes.

Denise Levertov served in the 1960s as poetry editor of The Nation and in 1975-78 as poetry editor for Mother Jones magazine. Denise Levertov taught at Stanford University from 1982-1993.

Selected Denise Levertov Quotations

• Know the ship you sail on. Know its timbers. Deep the fjord waters where you sail, steep the cliffs, deep into the unknown coast goes the winding fjord.

• The poem has a social effect of some kind whether or not the poet wills it to have. It has kinetic force, it sets in motion . . . elements in the reader that would otherwise be stagnant.

• One of the obligations of the writer is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language.

• In city, in suburb, in forest, no way to stretch out the arms -- so if you would grow, go straight up or deep down.

• But for us the road unfurls itself, we don't stop walking, we know there is far to go.

• You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.

• Affliction is more apt to suffocate the imagination than to stimulate it.

• Every day, every day I hear
enough to fill
a year of nights with wondering.

• Political subject matter is looked upon either as an intruder into the realm of poetry, or as a matter that requires special discussion every time it occurs, and can't just be taken for granted like any other subject.

• A poetry articulating the dreads and horrors of our time is necessary in order to make readers understand what is happening, really understand it, not just know about it but feel it: and should be accompanied by a willingness on the part of those who write it to take additional action towards stopping the great miseries which they record.

• Peace as a positive condition of society, not merely as an interim between wars, is something so unknown that it casts no images on the mind's screen.

• Why, when the very fact of life itself, of the existence of anything at all, is so astounding, why -- I asked myself -- should I withhold my belief in God or in the claims of Christianity until I am able to explain to myself the discrepancy between the suffering of the innocent, on the one hand, and the assertions that God is just and merciful on the other?

(about her mother) She was a pointer-outer. She pointed out clouds, and she pointed out flowers. She started one off looking at things.

• Very few people really see things unless they've had someone in early life who made them look at things. And name them too. But the looking is primary, the focus.

• I don't think one can accurately measure the historical effectiveness of a poem; but one does know, of course, that books influence individuals; and individuals, although they are part of large economic and social processes, influence history. Every mass is after all made up of millions of individuals.

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About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

Citation information:
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Denise Levertov Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/qu_levertov.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)

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