The Poem Unwritten

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov’s ‘The Poem Unwritten’ revolves around the extended metaphor for unconsummated love that is aptly portrayed in its very title. This piece fuses physicality with spiritual love.


Denise Levertov

Nationality: American

Denise Levertov was an English poet.

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

‘The Poem Unwritten’ is a highly sensual poem that appears in the collection, The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov. Levertov belongs to a distinguished group of poets called the “Black Mountain Poets.” The most prominent members include Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. Levertov was born in 1923 in England and later migrated to America in 1948 to become a citizen. She was a brilliant poet, despite being at the tender age of 12, and her poetry was self-explanatory and reliable. Her poems reveal the true pictures of nature and her surroundings that the readers sometimes find themselves horrified while reading. She holds the mirror to society through her works.

The Poem Unwritten by Denise Levertov


‘The Poem Unwritten’ by Denise Levertov is a seemingly amorous poem highlighting the laments of a speaker to have her partner far away from her.

In this poem, a speaker longs for his loved one. She wants to indulge in sensual pleasures with him. The poem contains erotic connotations and deep meaning for the pure form of love. To be specific, Levertov compares laying hands on a lover’s body to a form of prayer. She compares the unwritten poem to unconsummated love. In this way, she explores a speaker’s heartfelt longing for her dear one. She somehow wants to pen down the poem of their passionate love.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-4

For weeks the poem of your body,


worship, going

‘The Poem Unwritten’ begins with the speaker’s expressions of love for her beloved. She is longing for her lover. She mentions various ways to find a place to be with him. According to her, she has been waiting for him for “weeks.” She badly wants to adore, to listen to “the poem of his body.” She wants to feel the warmth and affection of his “body” by being with him.

Furthermore, she talks about her desire to touch her lover’s body. Her “hands” denotes the need for a platonic reunion. The poet mentions various motions by which she wants to be in contact with her lover, “stroking” and “sweeping” her hands off his body. She wants to worship her beloved and wishes to pray to the lord with him.

Lines 5-9

their way of wonder down



In these lines, her hands make slow movements from her lover’s “neck,” leading to his “breast-hair” (chest). Then she would set out for his “belly” and “cock.” The phrase “that prayer unwritten” denotes that all her desires are unfulfilled. All these seem to be just the fantasy of the poet.

The overall appeal of the poem is sensual and erotic, as it includes sensual expressions of the human body, including “neck,” “breast,” “belly,” and “cock”. Emphasis on the human body as a source of pleasure has been directly laid in this poetic work.

Lines 10-13

That poem unwritten, the act


blocking the altar.

Continuing with the tone from the previous lines, the speaker laments that her desire to feel her partner’s body is still “unwritten” (unfulfilled), and all her efforts to make that happen went in vain. All these expectations of meeting her love cook up in her head. She regrets it as it is still “undone.”

She compares a year-long waiting for her lover to a “forest of giant stones.” She considers her expectations to be a “forest” with all the impure and unfulfilled thoughts. Just as the “stones” act as a hindrance to the travelers and the passers-by, the thoughts of the speaker block her in the same way. They are like impediments strewn on the way to meet her beloved.

She compares her mind to an “altar’ marking it all serene and pure, far away from evil and a corrupted soul. She wants to make this reunion happen so that she can purge herself and become one with this pure, divine soul.


The poem runs into thirteen lines with no specific rhyme and rhythm. It is produced in the free-verse. It follows a conversational tone as if the speaker is having a conversation with herself. She blabbers with her soul and laments the deeds which could be done with her partner but have not been done yet. The speaker is none other than the poet herself. She writes this piece from the first-person point of view.

Literary Devices

Levertov makes use of the following literary devices in ‘The Poem Unwritten.’

  • Metaphor: It is a comparison of two, unlike things without the use of “as” or “like.” For example, “the hands” are the metaphor for the instrument of sexual pleasures, and the “poem” implies the act of lovemaking.
  • Alliteration: It is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of the closely placed words. For instance, the phrase “stroking, sweeping, in the rite of” contains a repetition of the consonant “s.”
  • Repetition: It occurs when a word or phrase frequently occurs throughout the poem. For example, there are repetitions of the words like “poem” and “your body” in this poem.
  • Enjambment: It is the continuation of a line or a sentence across a line break. Like, the whole poem has been written using this literary device, with no breaks between the lines. The lines often extend to the next few lines to make sense.

Historical Context

Levertov’s father was an immigrant Russian Jew who was converted to Christianity. She became a nurse during World War II, serving the wounded soldiers. Hence, she had eye-to-eye-contact exposure to war casualties.

Most of Levertov’s poems have the horrors of the war as their major theme. She had her own longings in life, and she reflected on those in her poetry. “The Freeing of Dust” is a confessional poem by her published in 1975, “The Sorrow Dance” in 1967, reflecting her opinions about the war. Levertov’s unique style of writing includes the usage of direct objects, feelings, and opinions. She also uses allusions and metaphors to explore more complex ideas and emotions. For instance, in ‘The Poem Unwritten,’ she draws poetry as a metaphor for physical love and expresses her desire for her beloved through the expression of writing poetry.


What is the poem ‘The Poem Unwritten’ about?

Denise Levertov’s ‘The Poem Unwritten’ is about unconsummated love. The speaker laments how she could not be with her lover for a long time. Thus, the poem of their love is still not woven into passionate words.

What type of poem is ‘The Poem Unwritten’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. This piece is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. Besides, there are a total of 13 lines in it that are packed into a single stanza.

What is the meaning of ‘The Poem Unwritten’?

‘The Poem Unwritten’ by Denise Levertov discusses her sense of longing for the love of her beloved and how erotic pleasures are necessary to build a healthy love relationship.

What is the theme of ‘The Poem Unwritten’?

This poem associates a number of themes that include love, touch, longing, and physical passion. The main idea of the poem concerns an unwritten poem that symbolizes a speaker’s, unconsummated love.

Similar Poems

The following poems similarly evoke the themes present in Denise Levertov’s ‘The Poem Unwritten.’

You can also explore these heartfelt poems about missing loved ones.

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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