I imagine someone will find something to pester about with this massive and holy beauty of a book, but I can't be bothered. Like I say, it's a beauty. The poet is long gone but certainly not to the memory of many of us who grew up with her books, issued one after another from New Directions (the faithful), and many of us knew Denise Levertov as friend, teacher, fellow contributor, activist, neighbor. We could even stretch it and say to many poets now in their late 50s to early 70s, who may recall a time when Levertov was a sort of earth mother poet to them, or sister. The poem below will just begin to show (but amply) her ability as mesmerizing storyteller — this poet who began to write her poems at age 5. And this poem has deep ingredients of Richard Jefferies roaming the same countryside, even the skilled wandering discipline of Williams (his longer poems; he will become a confidant and friend), Dorothy Wordsworth's journals, perhaps the balancing scales of Virginia Woolf. But it's all wickedly private/public Denise Levertov. As Eavan Boland makes note in her excellent introduction to this tome — you can sense the power of the poet right from the first line.
There's a lot going on here with this book. First, it's gorgeous coming into your hands, and almost heartbreaking to see such a devoted publisher as New Directions sticking to their guns with one of their poets . . . a woman poet, who never get enough big book attention. If they wanted to make a lasting monument, they have. It's over 1,000 pages true. Precious little waste, if any. The founder of New Directions, James Laughlin, is all throughout the book with his earnest for Levertov to be in his stable, after west-coast-both-feet-on-the-ground-genius Kenneth Rexroth introduced Levertov's poems to his poet/publisher friend. It was a good time for things to take off, and it did.
Later years brought this forever independent (Levertov) from no set school or sect, but her own, to Stanford, other parts west coast, and Seattle. Eavan Boland divides her time at Stanford and Dublin; scholars, other poets, students and a readership just carried on a momentum. Something the two editors of this book, and publisher, have handled well. The poet's individual books unfold in chronological order, along with extensive annotations and notes by Levertov herself on many of the books, when not poems. First lines are properly indicated as an index. It'll all come in time though, because you'll be holding the book in your two hands for awhile and not even wanting to open its leaves for a few moments. There's an absorbing ritual — a nearly forced will — that asks you to slow down, take a moment, and breathe in the apple you're about to bite.