Sunday, April 04, 2021

"Eyes whose lids you burned off": The late turn to the Vietnam War in Denise Levertov's "The Sorrow Dance"

During my daily project of reading and quoting from one poem from Denise Levertov's collected poems, I reached her 1967 collection "The Sorrow Dance" in late February, and since then I've wondered when she began writing poems about the Vietnam War. But only several poems into "Life at War", the next-to-last section of the book, does Levertov explicitly bring up the war in the opening of "Two Variations": "You who go out on schedule / to kill, do you know / there are eyes that watch you, / eyes whose lids you burned off." Even though I expected it, Levertov's turn to the violence of war is still jarring and disturbing. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 April 2021)

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