Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire; Selected Poems on Religious Themes (New York: New Directions Books, 1997), 88pp.
Denise Levertov (1923–1997) was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. Her father, who had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. She moved to the United States in 1948 after marrying Mitchell Goodman, and in 1955 became an American citizen. "I knew before I was ten," she once said, "that I was an artist-person and that I had a destiny." By the time she died in 1997, Levertov had published nearly fifty volumes of poetry, prose, and translations.
Levertov taught at Brandeis, MIT, Tufts, Stanford, and the University of Washington. It was at Stanford, where she taught for 11 years (1982–1993) in the Stegner Fellowship program, and where her papers are now housed, that Levertov converted to Christianity at the age of sixty. After moving to Seattle in 1989, she joined the Catholic Church. This little book from 1997 collects thirty-eight poems that were previously published in seven different volumes, beginning in 1978. They aren't exactly chronological, says Levertov in a brief foreword, but they do "trace my own slow movement from agnosticism to Christian faith."
In addition to her struggles with faith and doubt, many of the poems reflect on historical people, like Thomas Merton, Rilke, the apostle Peter, Caedmon, Brother Lawrence, Dom Helder Camara, the servant girl of Emmaus, and Julian of Norwich. Others explore biblical texts and theological themes, like the parable of the mustard seed, the curse of the fig tree, the annunciation, the resurrection, and the ascension. For more on Levertov, see the two critical biographies by Dana Green, Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2012); and Donna Krolik Hollenberg, A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).