Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov’s ‘Pleasures’ celebrates the beauty hidden within everyday objects, inviting readers to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Denise Levertov

Nationality: English

Denise Levertov was an English poet.

She was the winner of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Finding joy in discovering hidden beauty

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Bravery, Courage, Hope, Resilience, Satisfaction

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Levertov's poem explores the transformative power of attentive observation, reminding us to find joy and meaning in the small moments of life.

In Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker expresses a deep appreciation for the hidden beauty found within ordinary objects and experiences.

Through vivid descriptions, the poem explores the concept of discovering treasures that lie beneath the surface, whether it be gull feathers of glass, the bones of a squid, or the vibrant colors of fruits. The poem encourages readers to embrace a mindful perspective, find joy in the small details of life, and recognize the transformative power of uncovering hidden depths.


The poem ‘Pleasures’ by Denise Levertov explores the joy of discovering hidden treasures and the appreciation of the intricate beauty that lies within ordinary objects.

The speaker expresses a preference for finding things that are not immediately visible but are concealed within something else, possessing a unique and separate nature.

The first stanza introduces the concept of finding something within something else, suggesting a sense of curiosity and exploration. The speaker describes the pleasure of discovering “Gull feathers of glass” that are hidden in the “white pulp” of an unknown object, emphasizing the contrast between fragility and strength.

The second stanza continues the theme of hidden beauty by mentioning the bones of a squid. The speaker carefully extracts and arranges them “blade by blade on the draining board,” emphasizing their delicate yet purposeful design. This juxtaposition of fragility and functionality creates an intriguing tension.

In the next stanza, the speaker introduces a fruit called mamey, which is covered in a rough brown peel. The contrast between the exterior and the interior is vividly described, with the “rose-amber” flesh and a seed that resembles a “stone of wood.” The speaker notes the seed’s size, emphasizing its ability to fill the palm of a hand, indicating abundance and a sense of fulfillment.

The following stanza briefly describes the speaker’s appreciation for the stem of grass that grows within a folded leaf, showcasing the beauty within the ordinary. Finally, the poem concludes with a graphic image of a morning-glory flower. The narrow flute-shaped structure of the flower radiates a “butteryellow glow,” evoking a sense of warmth and tranquility, especially on a hot morning.

Structure and Form

Pleasures‘ by Denise Levertov is a poem that consists of seven stanzas, with a structured form that enhances the thematic content of the poem. The stanzas are divided into three-line tercets, except for the sixth stanza, which has four lines, and the seventh stanza, which has five lines. This deliberate structural choice helps to create a sense of progression and balance throughout the poem.

The use of three-line tercets in the first five stanzas establishes a consistent pattern that mirrors the speaker’s exploration of hidden pleasures. Each tercet presents a single image or concept, allowing the reader to focus on the vivid descriptions and contrasts that characterize the poem. The three-line structure also adds a sense of brevity and economy to each idea, emphasizing the concise and impactful nature of the speaker’s observations.

The departure from the three-line tercet in the sixth stanza, which contains four lines, serves to disrupt the established pattern. This disruption draws attention to the speaker’s emphasis on the fruit’s seed, which is described as a distinct object deserving of additional attention. The deviation from the established structure further highlights the significance and impact of this particular image.

The seventh and final stanza of the poem, with its five lines, provides a sense of resolution and closure. The expanded structure in this stanza allows the speaker to convey a more complete image of the morning-glory flower and the sensations associated with it. The additional line adds a sense of expansiveness and completeness, concluding the poem with a vivid and satisfying image.


In the poem ‘Pleasures‘ by Denise Levertov, several themes are addressed, each reflecting the speaker’s appreciation for hidden beauty and the joys of discovery.

One prominent theme is the exploration of hidden treasures. The speaker expresses delight in finding what is not immediately visible but lies within something else. This theme is exemplified through images such as “Gull feathers of glass, hidden in white pulp” and “the bones of squid” concealed within the speaker’s grasp.

Another theme is the juxtaposition of fragility and strength. Levertov highlights the delicate nature of objects that possess unexpected resilience. For instance, the squid bones are described as “fragile, substance belying design.” This contrast emphasizes the intricate beauty and purposefulness found in seemingly delicate structures.

The theme of abundance and fulfillment is also present. The speaker describes the mamey fruit’s interior as “rose-amber” and the seed as large enough to “fill the hungry palm of a hand.” This imagery suggests a sense of satisfaction and nourishment that can be found within ordinary experiences.

Nature and its hidden intricacies are explored as well. The poem references the “juicy stem of grass” growing within a folded leaf, highlighting the beauty and intricacy found even in small, overlooked details. The morning-glory flower symbolizes the transformative power of nature, with its “butteryellow glow” bringing coolness and beauty to a hot morning.

Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language

Denise Levertov employs several poetic techniques and figurative language in the poem ‘Pleasures‘ to convey the message and enhance the reader’s engagement with the text.

  • Imagery: One notable technique is the use of evocative imagery. Levertov employs descriptive language to create vibrant mental pictures, such as “Gull feathers of glass, hidden in white pulp.” This vivid image evokes a sense of delicate beauty and captures the reader’s attention.
  • Similes: The poet also employs similes to draw comparisons and enhance the reader’s understanding. For instance, the seed within the mamey fruit is described as “formed like a brazilnut.” This simile helps to convey the shape and appearance of the seed, allowing the reader to visualize it more clearly.
  • Metaphor: Levertov uses metaphor to imbue objects with deeper meaning. The morning-glory flower is described as having a “narrow flute” from which it opens. This metaphorical description adds a sense of musicality and grace to the image, enhancing the reader’s sensory experience.
  • Personification: The poet also employs personification to animate objects and create a sense of connection. The grass stem is described as growing “within the coarser leaf folded round,” giving it a sense of agency and vitality, as if it is intentionally nestled within its surroundings.
  • Juxtaposition: Another technique utilized is juxtaposition. Levertov contrasts fragility with strength, as seen in the description of the squid bones as “fragile, substance belying design.” This juxtaposition emphasizes the inherent contradictions within objects and adds depth to their portrayal.
  • Sensory Language: Additionally, Levertov employs sensory language to evoke a visceral response. Phrases like “butteryellow glow” and “the juicy stem of grass” appeal to the reader’s senses, creating a vivid and immersive experience.

Through these poetic techniques and figurative language, Levertov engages the reader’s imagination, bringing the objects and experiences to life and effectively conveying the message of finding beauty and pleasure in the hidden details of the world.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

I like to find
what’s not found
at once, but lies

In the opening stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker expresses a personal affinity for discovering that which is not immediately apparent but lies concealed, waiting to be uncovered. This stanza sets the tone for the entire poem and introduces a central theme of seeking hidden beauty and meaning.

The phrase “I like to find” establishes a personal and subjective tone, indicating the speaker’s individual preferences and inclinations. It suggests an active curiosity and a deliberate search for something beyond the obvious, emphasizing the speaker’s desire for a deeper connection with the world.

The repetition of the word “find” reinforces the speaker’s enthusiasm for discovery. By emphasizing the act of finding, Levertov emphasizes the joy and satisfaction that comes from uncovering something that was previously hidden or overlooked.

The line “what’s not found” suggests that the speaker finds particular pleasure in unearthing what is elusive or obscured. This implies a preference for the mysterious and the undiscovered, emphasizing the speaker’s desire to engage with the world in a more profound and meaningful way.

The subsequent line, “at once, but lies,” adds a layer of anticipation and mystery. The word “lies” conveys a sense of hidden potential and suggests that the sought-after treasures are concealed within something else. This introduces the idea that the pleasures the speaker seeks are often camouflaged or buried beneath superficial appearances.

Through this opening stanza, Levertov conveys a message about the inherent value of exploration and the rewards that come from seeking what lies beneath the surface. The speaker’s preference for finding hidden treasures implies a deeper appreciation for the complexities and subtleties of life. It encourages readers to cultivate a similar curiosity and openness, to actively engage with their surroundings, and to discover the hidden pleasures that can be found in the world around them.

Stanza Two

within something of another nature,   


Gull feathers of glass, hidden

In the second stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker further develops the message of seeking hidden beauty by emphasizing the qualities of the discoveries they find. This stanza explores the notion that the treasures they seek are nestled within objects that possess a different nature, maintaining a distinct presence while in a state of rest.

The phrase “within something of another nature” suggests that the treasures the speaker seeks are not found within their expected or immediate context. It implies that the objects containing these treasures have a separate essence or character, which adds to the intrigue and allure of the discoveries.

The line “in repose, distinct” highlights the distinctiveness of these hidden treasures. By using the term “repose,” the speaker suggests a state of calm and tranquility, emphasizing that these treasures are not easily observable or readily apparent. They require patience and a keen eye to discern.

The vivid image of “Gull feathers of glass, hidden” encapsulates the essence of the hidden beauty the speaker seeks. The juxtaposition of gull feathers, typically associated with softness and grace, with the fragility and transparency of glass, creates a striking visual contrast. This imagery conveys the delicate nature of the hidden treasures and underscores the idea that true beauty can often be found where it is least expected.

The word “hidden” emphasizes the secretive nature of these treasures, indicating that they are not readily accessible to casual observation. It adds a sense of mystery and invites the reader to engage in the act of discovery alongside the speaker.

Stanza Three

in white pulp: the bones of squid   


blade by blade on the draining board—

In the third stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker continues to explore the theme of hidden beauty by providing a specific example of discovery: the bones of a squid concealed within its white pulp. This stanza offers a metaphorical reflection on the delicate and purposeful nature of the treasures they find.

The phrase “in white pulp” describes the squid’s flesh, emphasizing its opaque and seemingly ordinary appearance. By highlighting the contrast between the hidden bones and the surrounding white pulp, the speaker underscores the transformative power of discovery.

The act of “pull[ing] out” the bones suggests an intentional and careful process of uncovering. This action of extraction implies a level of engagement and active participation in the search for hidden beauty. It conveys the speaker’s dedication to unveiling the intricate details concealed within the object.

The phrase “blade by blade” introduces a sense of precision and attention to detail in the handling of the squid’s bones. The speaker’s deliberate manner of laying out the bones on the draining board emphasizes their delicate nature and the careful consideration given to their arrangement. This attention to detail conveys the speaker’s deep appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of the hidden treasures they encounter.

Stanza Four

tapered as if for swiftness, to pierce   


       belying design.  Or a fruit, mamey,

In this fourth stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,‘ the speaker delves deeper into the concept of hidden beauty by presenting another example: the description of an object with a contradictory nature. This stanza explores the delicate balance between strength and fragility, challenging the reader’s perception of design and substance.

The phrase “tapered as if for swiftness, to pierce” introduces an image of an object designed for speed and sharpness. The speaker describes this object’s form, suggesting its potential to penetrate or make an impact. This evokes a sense of purpose and intention behind its creation.

However, the juxtaposition of the words “but fragile” disrupts the initial impression of strength and power. The contrast between the object’s outward appearance and its delicate nature challenges the reader’s expectations and emphasizes the theme of hidden beauty within seemingly contradictory elements.

The phrase “substance belying design” further emphasizes the disparity between appearance and reality. It suggests that the true essence of the object goes beyond its intended purpose or initial impression. This notion speaks to the idea that hidden treasures often possess qualities that are not immediately apparent or easily discernible.

The introduction of the fruit mamey adds a tangible and sensory element to the stanza. The description of the fruit’s rough brown peel and its contrasting “rose-amber” flesh presents another example of hidden beauty. The juxtaposition of the exterior and interior qualities of the fruit mirrors the earlier contrast between strength and fragility, reinforcing the poem’s overarching theme.

Stanza Five

cased in rough brown peel, the flesh   


the seed a stone of wood, carved and

In this fifth stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker continues to explore the theme of hidden beauty by providing a vivid description of fruit, further emphasizing the contrast between its exterior and interior qualities. This stanza explores the transformative power of discovery and the hidden depths within ordinary objects.

The phrase “cased in rough brown peel” conveys the initial appearance of the fruit, emphasizing its unassuming and unremarkable exterior. This description sets the stage for the revelation of the fruit’s hidden beauty.

The juxtaposition of the words “the flesh rose-amber” introduces a sudden shift in imagery, highlighting the vibrant and alluring qualities of the fruit’s interior. The use of the color “rose-amber” evokes a sense of warmth and richness, emphasizing the visual and sensory appeal of the hidden treasure.

The phrase “and the seed: the seed a stone of wood” further emphasizes the transformative nature of discovery. The seed, typically associated with potential and growth, is described as resembling a “stone of wood.” This description challenges conventional expectations, presenting the seed as something solid and enduring rather than fragile and ephemeral. It suggests that hidden treasures can take unexpected forms and possess qualities that defy preconceived notions.

The mention of the seed being “carved and polished, walnut-colored” adds an additional layer of complexity. This description implies a sense of craftsmanship and artistry, reinforcing the idea that hidden beauty is not accidental but rather the result of careful attention and skill. It also suggests that the hidden treasures we discover are often the product of nature’s intricate design.

Stanza Six

polished, walnut-colored, formed   


the hungry palm of a hand.

In the sixth stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Pleasures,’ the speaker provides a vivid description of a seed, further expanding on the theme of hidden beauty and the transformative power of discovery. This stanza explores the richness and abundance found within the seemingly ordinary.

The phrase “polished, walnut-colored, formed” emphasizes the visual and tactile qualities of the seed, drawing the reader’s attention to its smooth surface and rich color. This description creates a sense of depth and allure as if the seed possesses an inherent beauty that is waiting to be revealed.

The comparison between the seed and a brazilnut adds a layer of specificity to the description. This simile helps the reader visualize the shape and size of the seed, drawing upon their familiarity with brazilnuts to evoke a sense of scale and substance.

The use of the word “large” repeated twice emphasizes the seed’s size and abundance, suggesting that the hidden treasure within is not meager or insignificant. This description conveys a sense of fulfillment and richness as if the seed has the potential to satisfy hunger and provide nourishment.

The phrase “the hungry palm of a hand” introduces a human element into the stanza, emphasizing the connection between the discovery of hidden beauty and our own desires and needs. It suggests that the treasures we find have the power to satisfy our longing for meaning, fulfillment, and connection.

Stanza Seven

I like the juicy stem of grass that grows


opens blue and cool on a hot morning.

In the seventh and final stanza of Denise Levertov’s poem, the speaker continues to explore the theme of hidden beauty by providing examples of the speaker’s appreciation for small, often overlooked details in nature. This stanza emphasizes the ability to find joy and solace in the midst of everyday experiences.

The phrase “I like the juicy stem of grass that grows within the coarser leaf folded round” highlights the speaker’s appreciation for the intricacies of nature. The contrast between the delicate, succulent stem and the coarser, protective leaf emphasizes the hidden beauty that can be found within seemingly ordinary elements. It suggests that even in the midst of life’s challenges or less noticeable aspects, there is potential for growth and vitality.

The description of the “butteryellow glow” adds a visual and sensory dimension to the stanza. This evokes a sense of warmth and radiance, creating an atmosphere of beauty and tranquility. The use of the word “butteryellow” adds a touch of richness and texture to the image, enhancing the reader’s sensory experience.

The image of the “narrow flute from which the morning-glory opens blue and cool on a hot morning” captures a moment of natural beauty and transformation. The morning-glory, typically associated with the color blue, emerges from the narrow opening of its bud. The contrast between the vibrant blue and the coolness it exudes on a hot morning highlights the refreshing and uplifting nature of the hidden beauty found in simple natural occurrences.


What is the tone in ‘Pleasures?’

The tone in ‘Pleasures’ is contemplative, evoking a sense of introspection and reflection. It carries a tone of gentle awe, celebrating the beauty found in the ordinary and encouraging readers to adopt a similar mindset of attentiveness and appreciation.

What is the mood of ‘Pleasures?

The mood of ‘Pleasures’ is serene and uplifting, creating a sense of tranquility and joy. It fosters a peaceful and contented atmosphere, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural world and find solace in the simple pleasures of life.

What values are represented in the poem?

The values represented in the poem include a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature, the importance of mindful observation, and the recognition of hidden depths within seemingly ordinary objects and experiences.

What emotions are generated from the poem?

The emotions generated from the poem are a sense of wonder, delight, and quiet joy. The speaker’s descriptions of hidden beauty and their keen observations evoke a feeling of awe and reverence, inspiring readers to pause, reflect, and find joy in the small details of life.

Why is the poem titled Pleasures?’

The poem is titled ‘Pleasures’ because it centers around the speaker’s delight in discovering and appreciating the simple, often overlooked pleasures in life. It celebrates the joy that can be found in the beauty of the natural world, inviting readers to embrace a similar mindset of finding fulfillment in the ordinary moments and treasures that surround them.

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Poetry+ Review Corner


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Denise Levertov (poems)

Denise Levertov

This poem is a good representation of Denise Levertov's poetry. It encapsulates many elements that are characteristic of her work, such as her keen observation of the natural world, her attention to sensory details, and her ability to find beauty in ordinary moments. The poem showcases Levertov's skill in capturing the essence of a subject and conveying it with precision and depth. 'Pleasures' exemplifies the themes and poetic style that are often associated with Denise Levertov's body of work.
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20th Century

Denise Levertov's poem is a notable representation of 20th-century poetry, particularly in its exploration of beauty within the ordinary and its emphasis on sensory imagery. It stands alongside other poems of the time that sought to break free from traditional forms and experiment with language and structure. Levertov's ability to capture the essence of everyday experiences and her skillful use of vivid imagery contribute to the poem's significance within the broader context of 20th-century poetry.
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Denise Levertov's poem 'Pleasures' stands out among other poems from England with its exquisite attention to detail and celebration of hidden beauty. Levertov's skillful use of clear imagery and precise language captivates readers, drawing them into a world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The poem's ability to elicit a sense of wonder and joy through its descriptions sets it apart, as it encourages readers to embrace the richness of everyday experiences. 'Pleasures' showcases Levertov's mastery in capturing the essence of life's simple treasures and solidifies its place among the finest poems from England.
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This poem addresses the theme of beauty by emphasizing the speaker's appreciation for the hidden beauty found within ordinary objects and experiences. The vivid descriptions of gull feathers, fruits, and nature's details highlight the intrinsic beauty that often goes unnoticed. The poem celebrates the transformative power of discovering beauty in unexpected places, inviting readers to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the richness and diversity of the world around them.
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This poem addresses the theme of celebration through its joyful exploration of hidden beauty and the speaker's delight in discovering it. The vivid descriptions and the enthusiastic tone convey a sense of celebration for the small, often unnoticed treasures of life. The poem invites readers to join in the celebration of the extraordinary found within the ordinary, encouraging a mindset of gratitude, wonder, and appreciation. It reminds us to cherish the richness and beauty that surrounds us and to find reasons to celebrate in the everyday moments.
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This poem addresses the theme of desire by highlighting the speaker's longing to find what is not immediately visible. The descriptions of hidden treasures evoke a sense of curiosity and yearning to uncover the beauty that lies beneath the surface. The poem acknowledges the human desire for fulfillment and the satisfaction that comes from discovering and celebrating the hidden joys and richness present in the world around us.
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New Life

While the poem doesn't explicitly address the theme of new life, it implicitly suggests the theme through its exploration of hidden treasures and the potential for growth and transformation. The descriptions of seeds, sprouting grass, and morning-glory opening on a hot morning symbolize the inherent vitality and renewal found in nature. These images evoke a sense of new beginnings, capturing the essence of new life and the continuous cycles of growth and regeneration.
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While the poem doesn't explicitly evoke the emotion of bravery, it indirectly encourages a sense of courage through its celebration of curiosity and exploration. The speaker's willingness to seek out hidden beauty and embrace the joy of discovery implies a certain bravery in venturing beyond the surface and embracing the unknown. The poem inspires readers to be brave in their own pursuit of beauty and to embrace the transformative power of engaging with the world around them.
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While the poem doesn't explicitly prompt the emotion of courage, it indirectly encourages bravery through its emphasis on exploration and appreciation of the unnoticed. The speaker's curiosity and willingness to seek out hidden beauty prompt readers to have the courage to venture beyond the surface, embrace the unknown, and find strength in the act of discovery. The poem serves as a gentle reminder to be courageous in our pursuit of beauty and to find courage in engaging with the world around us.
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The poem 'Pleasures' induces the emotion of hope through its celebration of hidden beauty and the transformative power of discovery. The descriptions of overlooked treasures and the speaker's appreciation for the richness found within the ordinary inspire a sense of optimism and possibility. The poem prompts readers to view the world with hopeful eyes, knowing that there are hidden depths and moments of joy waiting to be uncovered.
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This poem indirectly addresses the emotion of resilience through its focus on hidden beauty and the act of discovery. The speaker's attentiveness and appreciation for the small, often overlooked details suggest a resilience to find joy and meaning even in challenging circumstances. The poem reminds readers that resilience can be cultivated by seeking out the extraordinary within the ordinary, allowing us to endure and thrive in the face of adversity by finding solace and inspiration in the hidden treasures of life.
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The poem 'Pleasures' elicits the emotion of satisfaction through its descriptions of hidden treasures and the speaker's delight in discovering them. The vivid imagery and the speaker's expressions of pleasure evoke a sense of contentment and fulfillment. The act of uncovering beauty in the ordinary invites readers to share in the satisfaction of appreciating the richness and depth that can be found in everyday experiences.
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Regarding the topic of stones, the poem deals with it by describing the seed in the fruit as a "stone of wood." The choice of words and imagery portrays the stone as a solid and enduring object. The poem celebrates the beauty and significance of the stone, acknowledging its role as a natural element that contributes to the overall richness and complexity of the world.
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This topic is indirectly tackled by emphasizing the power of finding hidden beauty and solace in the midst of challenges. The speaker's appreciation for the small details and overlooked treasures suggests resilience and determination to overcome adversity. The poem encourages readers to seek moments of beauty and joy, even in difficult times, offering a perspective that can provide comfort and strength during struggles. It suggests that by embracing the hidden pleasures of life, we can find respite and hope amidst the struggles we face.
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The poem 'Pleasures' indirectly addresses the topic of survival by highlighting the resilience and persistence of hidden beauty. The descriptions of treasures that lie within the ordinary suggest that even in challenging times, there is potential for survival and growth. The poem serves as a reminder that amidst struggles, there are hidden joys waiting to be discovered, encouraging readers to persevere and find solace in the small, often overlooked moments of beauty that can sustain us.
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This poem addresses the topic of working through the act of discovering hidden beauty. The speaker's attention to detail and their deliberate actions of pulling out squid bones or laying out gull feathers on a draining board imply a sense of purpose and engagement. The poem suggests that the act of exploring and appreciating the hidden aspects of the world can be seen as a form of meaningful work.
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Free Verse

From the mixture of tercets, quatrains, and quintains/quintets in Denise Levertov's 'Pleasures,' we can conclude that the poem does not strictly adhere to a single consistent form. Instead, it exhibits a more fluid and flexible structure, allowing the poet to experiment with different stanza lengths and arrangements. This suggests that the form of the poem is more organic and tailored to the specific content and flow of each stanza rather than conforming to a predetermined pattern or rhyme scheme.
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Hilary Benard Poetry Expert
Hilary has an MA in Comparative Literature & Critical Theories and BA in Comparative History. Courtesy of his expertise in literature and poetry, he has a depth of experience in a wide range of literary texts and movements: this includes the historical, cultural, and social contexts that produced them.

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