Collected in this volume are three books, in their entirety, from the middle of a distinguished career—The Freeing of the Dust (1975), Life in the Forest (1978), and Candles in Babylon (1982)—but no “new” or revised material. Levertov (who died in 1997 at the age of 74) wrote poems that are accessible and unadorned, but her straightforwardness does not preclude a profound metaphorical resonance. She was in tune with the natural world and our place in it, as demonstrated in the remarkable, if unlikely, “Pig Dream” sequence (“I love my own Humans and their friends, / but let it be said, / their race is dangerous”). She was also fiercely committed to speaking out against war (Vietnam, especially, in the earlier poems collected here) and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants; hers are among the best poems we have on these subjects. “A Speech: For Antidraft Rally, D.C., March 22, 1980” concludes with what should be a simple admonition: “We must dare to win / not wars, but a future / in which to live.” Levertov took pains to avoid the self-conscious use of the first person, and as a result her vision has a welcome breadth and generosity: despite the often-bleak subject matter, tranquility and strength lie at the core of her best work, offering hope for the future: “You live / this April’s pain / now, / you will come / to other Aprils, / each will astonish you.” In the end, her oeuvre should prove as durable and relevant as the writers (William Carlos Williams, the Black Mountain poets, etc.) with whom she was frequently associated during her lifetime.
An excellent representation of a major poet—for those who don’t already own the books that comprise it.