Twin commitments to simultaneously praise the beauty of the world and witness its horrors lie at the heart of poet Denise Levertov’s writing, activism, and spiritual path.

One moment she would be deep in serious conversation on the nature of evil or the future of our planet; then she would suddenly see an iris bloom sticking through a broken fence and break into an improvised ballet step in response. Her essay on “Poetry, Prophecy, Survival” captures the interplay between her commitments to witness and praise: “If we lose the sense of contrast of the opposites to all the grime and gore, the torture, the banality of the computerized apocalypse, we lose the reason for trying to work for redemptive change.”

These twin commitments brought Levertov, an English-born American poet, into intimate connection, as well as passionate conflict, with the Divine. In a very real...

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