Denise Levertov on a Biblical Scale

In February, like it or not, our thoughts turn to love. Or, as Frank Sinatra would have it: love and marriage. Not that love always rides shotgun with marriage. To love and to cherish till death do us part is a tall order.

Some say all literature is about death. Others say it is about love. A rogue third group says, “What’s the difference?” because they are philosophers and are paid to argue. One thing is sure, however. Marriage is a fraught thing, making it the perfect subject for poets, who are all about catching fraught in whitewater with a wood spear.

One poem I have always admired for trying is Denise Levertov’s “The Ache of Marriage.” No one exchanging vows at an altar thinks of marriage in terms of “ache,” but they haven’t been in the belly of the leviathan yet. Marriage can ache on a biblical scale. And think of it: “ache” can be as good as it is bad. You can “ache with love” just as easily as you “ache with hurt.”

Check out Levertov’s metaphors and Biblical allusions. And check out the sound devices at the end. The last stanza I love to say aloud again and again–just for the sheer joy it brings my ears. It makes them ring, in fact. The tinnitus of truth, call it.

Here you go:


The Ache of Marriage by Denise Levertov

The ache of marriage:

thigh and tongue, beloved,
are heavy with it,
it throbs in the teeth

We look for communion
and are turned away, beloved,
each and each

It is leviathan and we
in its belly
looking for joy, some joy
not to be known outside it

two by two in the ark of
the ache of it.


If you’ll pardon the pun, you Noah good poem when you stumble upon it. You might not want to get up, in fact. At least for awhile, anyway. Sometimes the ache is a pleasant thing. Share it, why don’t you. The marriage of ideas is always a good first step….