Philip Levine Poems

Philip Levine was an American poet born in 1928 in Detroit. He experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s and the wars of the mid 20th century. His personal history often played a role in his poetry. One of his best-known collections is They Feed They Lion.

You Can Have It

by Philip Levine

‘You Can Have It’ is a poem about a man’s loss of enthusiasm towards life and his desire to regain the things and people that made it more colorful. The poem conveys this message through the persona’s narrative, set in Detroit in the year 1948.

Philip Levine is the poet behind this piece, and it is regarded as one of his best poems. He often wrote semiautobiographical poems about simple daily life. Levine's poems particularly revolved around his work life, and 'You Can Have It' is no exception.

My brother comes home from work

and climbs the stairs to our room.

I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop

one by one. You can have it, he says.

The Simple Truth

by Philip Levine

‘The Simple Truth’ by Philip Levine is a thoughtful narrative poem that explores life’s “simple truths” and how fundamental they are to our understanding of the world. 

Philip Levine was a prominent poet in 20th-century American poetry, known for his straightforward style and themes of working-class life. This poem should be considered among his best due to its use of plain language and highly relatable themes. Many readers from all walks of life will find themselves connecting to the poet's assertion that simple truths are fundamental to "our" identities.

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,

took them home, boiled them in their jackets

and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.

Then I walked through the dried fields

They Feed They Lion

by Philip Levine

‘They Feed They Lion’ by Philip Levine is a powerful poem that visualizes a scene of apocalyptic proportions. It was inspired by the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots.

There’s a reason 'They Feed They Lion' is one of Philip Levine’s most well-known pieces. From its vividly evocative imagery and surreal use of language, it’s a poem that conveys, on a visceral level, its themes of consumption and rebellion. The poem features several powerful examples of contrast, or juxtaposition, as the destruction and world-ending events are alluded to as the just reaction of oppressed peoples.

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,

Out of black bean and wet slate bread,

Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,

Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,

An Extraordinary Morning

by Philip Levine

‘An Extraordinary Morning’ by Philip Levine is a moving poem that exalts and admires the brotherly love shared between two laborers enjoying being off the clock.

This poem by Philip Levine revolves around an unguarded moment of revelry shared between two young men as they enjoy their anticipation of a hard-earned long weekend. The poet's focused illustration on both paints a portrait that's guided by his reverence and appreciation for the virtues of camaraderie. It also reveals the dignity he sees manifest in working-class people.

Two young men—you just might call them boys—

waiting for the Woodward streetcar to get

them downtown. Yes, they’re tired, they’re also

dirty, and happy. Happy because they’ve

What Work Is

by Philip Levine

‘What Work Is’ by Philip Levine attempts to reconcile the speaker’s perceptions of what work is versus the tormenting experience of waiting for it.

This poem by Philip Levine first appears to be about answering the title's question: what is work? But the speaker is pushed to ruminate about their understanding of work and how that has affected their relationship with their brother. It's a poem about discovering empathy in personal experience and struggling to reconcile that revelation.

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is—if you’re

old enough to read this you know what

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