Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


I examine the complex and untheorized relationship between mysticism and politics in Denise Levertov's poetry and poetics. Levertov's reputation began to suffer during the sixties when she wrote about the Vietnam War, partly because of the idea--a vestige of the New Criticism--that poetry should transcend its political and social contexts. In the case of Levertov criticism, the preference for a timeless "poetic" plane has been reinforced by the prevalent assumption that her pre-war poetics was grounded in a celebratory mysticism that precluded political commentary. In reality, Levertov's mystical poetics--which shows traces of diverse influences, including Hasidism, the Romantic lyric, objectivism and objectism--entails both the impetus and the technique for a political poetry. While the majority of Levertov's critics posit a split between her mystical poetry and her political poetry, I argue that a recognition of the continuities in her career provides us with a method with which to assess the strengths of her events/issues poetry.;I read Levertov's pre-war poems as mystical "process lyrics," a hybrid form that both constructs a poet-speaker and resists the monologism and the timelessness of the lyric. I then demonstrate the possibilities this form has provided for her political poetry. It allowed a conjunction of emotion and politics; her poems document the "inner/outer" experience of an American Vietnam-era activist. The fundamental dialogism of her "inner voice" has lent itself to several kinds of advocatorial poetry. I employ recent theory on appropriation of voice to examine the charges of poetic colonialism against the war poetry. I then extend my discussions of advocacy and appropriation of voice to Levertov's ecological poetry, which I consider in light of recent theory of the lyric. Then I show how, especially during the eighties, Levertov's dialogic inner voice adapted to her growing incorporation of Christian ideas into a Hasidic poetry. Finally, I again demonstrate the need to read Levertov's political and religious ideologies in light of one another by examining the politicization of poetic forms that were based on liturgical models.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.