“The Wedding-Ring” by Denise Levertov: The Use of Personification to Achieve Gravitas

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In Denise Levertov’s poem “The Wedding-Ring”, a woman casts a long, nostalgic look at her ruined marriage that is symbolized by an abandoned wedding ring. By connoting mixed feelings of sadness and regret over a relationship gone awry, Levertov employs a number of poetic devices to enable the reader to better identify with feelings of desolation and despair one typically endures during a break-up. In this essay, I will articulate how personification, metaphor and repetition are used as poetic devices throughout the poem to add weight and gravitas to the narrator’s sense of sadness and unhappiness. It is possible to trace a historical arc throughout the poem wherein the narrator begins on a nostalgic note and ends on a more final, dismissive one in which the disastrous marriage is alluded to with growing frustration and annoyance. That being said, despair and longing still remain potent feelings throughout the poem due to poetic devices such as personification, metaphor and repetition which serve to re-emphasize feelings associated to loss and abandonment.

Personification is a figure of speech wherein an inanimate object is endowed with human characteristics, usually to heighten emotion or to bring attention to a particular element in a phrase or sentence. I would argue that personification is highly valued by Levertov who seeks to lay bare her emotions and make plain the feelings of the hopelessness and anguish that follows a bitter break-up. By using the wedding-ring basket to symbolize all that her marriage stood for, the narrator laments how quickly hopes can be dashed and expectations can be squashed. In the first stanza, the tenor of the narrator’s language is mostly nostalgic. Throughout the second stanza, these inanimate objects are given life through the use of personification, where nails are “waiting” and paperclips are “idle”. These household items, once cherished and imbued with hope, are now obsolete.

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A metaphor in poetry is a comparison of two unlike things without using the words “like” or “as”. Metaphor is employed in the opening line to compare the marriage to the wedding-ring, where both concepts are now considered to be lifeless but still only bring the narrator pain and sadness.

Repetition in poetry is used to emphasize a particular aspect or element that the author would like to draw the reader’s attention to. As such, in “The Wedding-Ring”, the repetition of the word “time” in the fourth stanza serves to underline the narrator’s uneasy relationship with the passing of time and the damage that time can wreck on a human being and on one’s feelings in general.

As numerous scholars suggested, Levertov’s corpus of poems usually tend to depict self-discovery and maturity. According to one scholarly source: “The “imperative mystery” and the journey within are the very stuff of Levertov’s poetry and have been from the beginning” (Hamill, 39). The poem “The Wedding-Ring” is no exception to this rule. Penned in 1978, the poem reflects Levertov’s situation as a recent divorcee, having been separated from her husband Mitchell Goodman since 1974. As such, the cultural context of the poem pinpoints to what extent feelings of despair, loneliness and unhappiness were still fresh in Levertov’s soul as a recently divorced woman.

In conclusion, the pervasive feelings of angst mingled with malcontent in “The Wedding-Ring” are consistently referred to by poetic devices such as personification, metaphor and repetition. Penned in beautiful, captivating imagery, this poem bears witness to Levertov’s understanding of loss. Scholar Joyce Lorrain Beck writes: “Levertov often associates the imagination with exquisitely realistic detail” (45). By playing on her own personal experience of a failed marriage, Levertov successfully brings the reader into the fold of her mind where she battles with feelings of isolation and unhappiness at a doomed relationship that cannot be reanimated no matter how hard she would like to.

  • Beck, L. “Denise Levertov’s Poetics and Oblique Players.” Religion & Literature 18 (1986): 45-61. Web.
  • Duddy, T. “To Celebrate: A Reading of Denise Levertov.” Criticism 10 (1968): 138-152. Web.
  • Hamill, S. “Salt and Honey: Denise Levertov Revisited.” The American Poetry Review 20 (1991): 39-43. Web.

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