Denise Levertov was born in 1923 in the town of Ilford in Essex, England. Her father had been a Russian rabbi and noted Cabala scholar until he immigrated to England and became an Anglican priest. Levertov's mother was a Congregationalist from Wales with her own ancestry of spiritual leaders. Levertov was educated at home until, at the age of twelve, she was left to her own devices on the promise that she would read some history. Her only formal education outside the home was several years of ballet lessons. She otherwise pursued her own intellectual interests through visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the cultural venues London offered, and nature expeditions to area parks. Levertov's family provided a model for political activism that she would follow throughout her life. She recalled family members' involvement in the League of Nations, and in protest against Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia and against Britain's policy toward Spain, among other things. Her father assisted many Jewish refugees during World War II. This climate of spiritual and political engagement, along with the time she spent as a nurse in London during the war, profoundly influenced Levertov's approach to life and poetry. Her work would also be marked by the constant attempt to exist within various dichotomies: Jewish and Christian, English and American, secular and religious, formal and free.Less
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