Somebody Trying

By Denise Levertov 1923–1997 Denise Levertov
‘That creep Tolstoy,’ she sobbed.
‘He. . . He. . . couldn’t even. . .’
Something about his brother dying.

The serfs’ punishments
have not ceased to suppurate on their backs.
Woodlots. People. Someone crying

under the yellow
autumn birchgrove drove him
wild: A new set of resolves:

When gambling, that almost obsolete fever,
or three days with the gypsies
sparked him into pure ego, he could,

just the same, write home, ‘Sell them.’
It’s true. ‘Still,’ (someone who loved her said,
cold and firm while she dissolved,

hypocrite, in self disgust, lectrice)
‘Still, he kept on. He wrote
all that he wrote; and seems to have understood

better than most of us:
to be human isn’t easy. It’s not
easy to be a serf or a master and learn

that art. It takes nerve. Bastard. Fink.
Yet the grief
trudging behind his funeral, he earned.’

Denise Levertov, “Somebody Trying" from Poems 1968-1972. Copyright © 1970 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poems 1968-1972 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Denise Levertov 1923–1997

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Social Commentaries, Class

 Denise  Levertov


During the course of a prolific career, Denise Levertov created a highly regarded body of poetry that reflects her beliefs as an artist and a humanist. Her work embraces a wide variety of genres and themes, including nature lyrics, love poems, protest poetry, and poetry inspired by her faith in God. "Dignity, reverence, and strength are words that come to mind as one gropes to characterize . . . one of America's most respected . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Social Commentaries, Class

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.