In Mind

There’s in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without

but she has
no imagination

And there’s a
turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.

– Denise Levertov

So many ways to look at this poem that come to mind; where to start?
First off, the immediately apparent – that if you’re a woman and innocent, kind, considerate that you lack imagination; that interesting people that know strange songs are neither kind nor do they quite fit in.
The gender overlay gives us the ‘good’ girl and the ‘bad’ girl, and conforming to societal expectations and not making people uncomfortable.
The other way to see it is that it’s a false choice – you don’t have to be one or the other, and can be both at different times or at the same time.
There are vague hints of the maiden, the mother and the crone – more allusions than anything, and maybe just something I’m reading into the poem that’s not really there. The mother, of course, being the role that society accepts and compliant of others’ wishes, and the maiden and the crone being turbulent, disturbing, misfits that have power and challenge the order of things.
Something about this poem put me in mind of this poem by E.E. Cummings. Probably because Life is portrayed as boring and a little sad, Death as young and casually cruel but dashing and interesting.
We’ve run another poem by Levertov here. There’s some biographical information on that page as well. You can read a bit more about her life here and an interview with her here.

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  1. By A Woman Alone – Fiat Camena on July 3, 2012 at 08:13

    […] there will be peace. You can read other poems by Levertov that we’ve run on this site here and here. Those poems also have links to biographical information about […]

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