A voice from the dark called out,
‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses …
A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
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.
Denise Levertov, “Making Peace” from Breathing the Water.
During the course of a prolific career, Denise Levertov created a highly regarded body of poetry that reflected her beliefs as an artist and a humanist. Her work embraced a wide variety of genres and themes, including nature lyrics, love poems, protest poetry, and poetry inspired by her faith in God. “Dignity, reverence, and strength are words that come to mind as one gropes to characterize … one of America’s most respected poets,” wrote Amy Gerstler in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, adding that Levertov possessed “a clear uncluttered voice—a voice committed to acute observation and engagement with the earthly, in all its attendant beauty, mystery and pain.” Levertov was born in England and came to the United States in 1948; during her lifetime she was associated with Black Mountain poets such as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley. Invested in the organic, open-form procedures of William Carlos Williams, Levertov’s body of quietly passionate poems, attuned to mystic insights and mapping quests for harmony, became darker and more political in the 1960s as a result of personal loss and her political activism against the Vietnam War. In Modern American Women Poets, Jean Gould called Levertov “a poet of definite political and social consciousness.” However, Levertov refused to be labeled, and Kenneth Rexroth once described her as “in fact classically independent.”