O Taste And See Denise Levertov

(1964) The title poem in Denise levertovs 1964 collection of poetry, "O Taste and See" is a strong statement of her poetics. "The world is / not with us enough," she begins, and her opening lines do more than just allude to William Wordsworth's sonnet ("The World Is Too Much with Us" [1807]); they contradict it and in doing so signal not only Levertov's movement away from the formalism of her poetic predecessors but also her rejection of the classification "New romantic" given to her when she was a young writer. The formalism and conventional style of earlier poets (including her younger self) were challenged by her evolving use of organic form and her development of poetry in which metrical patterns and highly formal diction were discarded in favor of direct utterance and the use of what William Carlos WILLIAMS called the "variable foot," a metrical system based on the rhythm of everyday language rather than the meter of traditional poetry (see prosody and free verse).

Levertov wants to teach us that when we embrace "all that lives," we embrace the world and all the things within it, things we not only see but also take within our very selves: wind, rain, fruit, color, even the words we speak. Our embrace of "all that lives" means we are totally alive to the experience of life, and, for Levertov, life also means poetry. Everyday experiences inspire the poetry she writes, and the Bible poster the speaker of this poem sees on the subway is, in itself, a reference to this poetry of human experience through its quotation from Psalm 34 ("O taste and see that the Lord is good!"), for the Psalms themselves are poems. "O Taste and See," then, is a poem about the small things that lend our lives grace and beauty because of their quotidian and poetic nature.

The subway poster with its Biblical quotation is not the only example of the secularization of religious experience and the experience of human life this represents. Transubstantiation (as in the Christian Mass) here becomes the way in which we are able to face the fact of our eventual death and weave it into our lives, and the fall of Adam and Eve becomes the means by which we can gain the knowledge we need to lead a full and joyfully engaged life. Levertov's use of the fall is also a reference to the romantic poets (who turned to secularized versions of the story of the Garden of Eden as a means of examining human experience), and once again we see that Levertov is signaling a change from the work of her poetic predecessors; while the fall was a morality tale for the romantics, it becomes here a lesson in how to embrace life—a lesson, in other words, in how to taste and see.

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