Denise Levertov is regarded as a key figure in the New American Poetry and a committed political activist of the 1960s counterculture. Reading a treatise on poetry contained in Emmanuel Levinas’s Existence and Existents (1947) alongside Levertov’s early poems prior to her adoption of the American idiom, this essay re-positions the poet as the pathfinder of an intense period of assimilation in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The essay focuses on Levertov’s first collection of poems, The Double Image (1946), before turning to the frequently overlooked poems in her notebooks for 1947, in particular, ‘Fear of the Blind’. Examining key tropes of sight, visual impairment and observation, ‘Fear of the Blind’ deals with a personal and political trauma in the birth pains of the postwar period and marks a pivotal moment in Levertov’s lyrical reflexivity. It is the argument of this essay that the de-humanising rhetoric of anti-Semitism traumatised language by driving it against its ethical grain. In response, Levertov’s unique poetics of materialism provides not only a revitalisation of language in the lyric form but an important contribution to current political and eth- ical debates concerning twenty-first century living.
- Denise Levertov
- Emmanuel Levinas