Rings & Ripples: A Mythic Structure of Growth in Denise Levertov’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 01 February

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Anita Klujber continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Denise Levertov’s ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’


Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919), Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon (1907)

‘When words penetrate deep into us they change the chemistry of the soul, of the imagination’, wrote Essex-born poet Denise Levertov (1923-1997) in her essay ‘The Poet in the World’. The transformative power of the blended domains of myth, poetry, and music comes to life in her poem ‘A Tree Telling of Orpheus’ (1968), exhibiting some of the ways in which poetry carries the seed of myth and myth carries the seed of poetry. Levertov used the central image of this poem to reflect on the role of myth in poetic creation in her essay ‘The Sense of Pilgrimage’: ‘The poet must have as vivid a relation to any myth as if he were a tree that had followed Orpheus.’

The poem resonates in harmony with the musical semantics of The Lost Steps, discussed last week at Myth Reading Group. The cosmic dance of trees, the steps taken back to our origins, the ring structure of the journey, the power of the creative Word, the mythic wholeness of enchantment and terror, the dissolution of boundaries, all these and much more are made into song by the poet’s lyre that is described in the poem as ‘both frost and fire’.

Set text: ‘A Tree Telling Of Orpheus‘.


Levertov, Denise, ‘The Poet in the World’, in The Poet in the World (New Directions, New York, 1973 [1960]),107-116; 114.
——–‘The Sense of Pilgrimage’, in The Poet in the World (New Directions, New York, 1973 [1960]), 62-86; 72.



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