Levi, Peter (Chad Tigar)
LEVI, Peter (Chad Tigar)
Nationality: British. Born: Ruislip, Middlesex, 16 May 1931. Education: Prior Park College, Bath; Beaumont College, Berkshire, 1946–48; Campion Hall, Oxford, M.A. 1961; British School of Archaeology, Athens, 1965–68. Family: Married Deirdre Craig in 1977. Career: Member of the Society of Jesus, 1948–77: ordained priest, 1964; resigned priesthood, 1977. Tutor and lecturer in classics, Campion Hall, 1965–77; lecturer in classics, Christ Church, Oxford, 1979–82. Fellow, St. Catherine's College, Oxford, 1977–2000; professor of poetry, Oxford University, 1984–89. Archaeology correspondent, The Times, London, 1977–78. Has also worked as a schoolteacher, archaeologist, and prison chaplain. Member, Kingman Committee on English Literature, 1987–88. Awards: Southern Arts literature prize, 1984. Fellow, Society of Antiquaries. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1985. Agent: John Johnson, 45 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1, England. Address: Prospect Cottage, The Green, Frampton on Severn, Glos GL2 7DY, England. Died: 1 February 2000.
Earthly Paradise. Privately printed, 1958.
The Gravel Ponds. London, Deutsch, and New York, Macmillan, 1960.
Orpheus Head. Privately printed, 1962.
Water, Rock, and Sand. London, Deutsch, and Philadelphia, Dufour, 1962.
The Shearwaters. Oxford, Allison, 1965.
Fresh Water, Sea Water. Llandeilo, Carmarthen, and London, Black Raven Press-Deutsch, 1966.
Pancakes for the Queen of Babylon: Ten Poems for Nikos Gatsos. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1968.
Ruined Abbeys. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1968.
Life Is a Platform. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1971.
Death 15 a Pulpit. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1971.
Penguin Modern Poets 22, with Adrian Mitchell and John Fuller. London, Penguin, 1973.
Collected Poems 1955–1975. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1976.
Five Ages. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1978.
Private Ground. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1981.
The Echoing Green: Three Elegies. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1983.
The Lamentation of the Dead. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1984.
Shakespeare's Birthday. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1985.
Shadow and Bone. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.
Goodbye to the Art of Poetry (lecture in verse). London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.
The Marches. London, Merrievale, 1989.
The Rags of Time. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1994.
Reed Music. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1997.
Screenplays: Ruined Abbeys, 1966; Foxes Have Holes, 1967;
Seven Black Years, 1975; Art, Faith, and Vision, 1989.
The Head in the Soup. London, Constable, 1979.
Grave Witness. London, Quartet, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985.
Knit One, Drop One. London, Quartet, 1986; New York, Walker, 1988.
To the Goat (novella). London, Hutchinson, 1988.
Shade Those Laurels by Cyril Connolly, completed by Levi. London, Bellew, 1990.
Beaumont 1861–1961. London, Deutsch, 1961.
The Light Garden of the Angel King: Journeys in Afghanistan. London, Collins, and Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1972.
In Memory of David Jones (sermon). London, The Tablet, 1975.
The Noise Made by Poems. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1977.
Atlas of the Greek World. Oxford, Phaidon Press, 1980; New York, Facts on File, 1981.
The Hill of Kronos. London, Collins, 1980; New York, Dutton, 1981; as The Hill of Kronos: A Personal Discovery of Greece. London, Harper Collins, 1991.
The Greek World, photographs by Eliot Porter. New York, Dutton, 1980; London, Aurum Press, 1981.
The Flutes of Autumn. London, Harvill Press, 1983.
A History of Greek Literature. London and New York, Viking, 1985.
The Frontiers of Paradise: A Study of Monks and Monasteries. London, Collins, 1987; New York, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.
The Life and Times of William Shakespeare. London, Macmillan 1988; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1989.
Goodbye to the Art of Poetry. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.
Boris Pasternak. London, Century Hutchinson, 1990.
Atlas of the Greek World. New York, Facts on File, 1991.
Tennyson. London, Macmillan, 1993.
Edward Lear: A Biography. New York, Scribner, 1995.
Eden Renewed: The Public and Private Life of John Milton. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Horace: A Life. Boston, Routledge and Kegan, 1998.
Virgil: His Life and Times. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Editor, The English Bible 1534–1859. London, Constable, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1974.
Editor, Pope. London, Penguin, 1974.
Editor, The Penguin Book of Christian Verse. London, Penguin, 1984.
Editor, Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. London, Penguin, 1987.
Translator, with Robin Milner-Gulland, Selected Poems of Yevtushenko. London, Penguin, and New York, Dutton, 1962; as Poems Chosenby the Author, London, Collins-Harvill Press, 1966; New York, Hill and Wang, 1967.
Translator, Guide to Greece, by Pausanias. London, Penguin, 2 vols.,1971.
Translator, The Psalms. London, Penguin, 1977.
Translator, The Cellar, by George Pavlopoulos. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1977.
Translator, The Murderess, by Alexandros Papadiamantis. London and New York, Writers and Readers, 1983.
Translator, Marko the Prince (Serbo-Croat epic poetry). London, Duckworth, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1984.
Translator, The Holy Gospel of John. Worthing, Churchman, 1985;Wilton, Connecticut, Morehouse-Barlow, 1988.
Translator, Heroic Lament for the Young Lieutenant Lost in Albania, O. Elytis. Privately printed, 1990.
Translator, The Revelation of John. London, Kyle Cathie Ltd., 1992.*
Manuscript Collection: Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Critical Studies: "Poems without Excuses: Some Notes on Peter Levi" by Neil Corcoran, in Agenda (London), 17(2), 1979; interview with John Haffenden, in Poetry Review (London), 74(3), September 1984; Peter Levi Special Issue of Agenda (London), 24(3), autumn 1986.* * *
Peter Levi's poetry—like that of Wallace Stevens, with which it sometimes enters into a kind of dialogue—is often concerned with its own procedures. In the early poem "The Tractor in Spring," Levi establishes the connection between language and theme that he has maintained throughout his work:
I want words whose existence is this,
the rough soil and the root work in them,
praising heaven I ever took for theme
this planet, its unnatural wishes,
common reason and human justice,
and growth of life, the last increase of time.
The words he finds for the abstractions of "reason" and "justice" often create a complex kind of interior landscape in which a mood is evoked or a scene described in order to prompt some defining relation between the human consciousness and its embracing contingencies of nature and of history. In establishing this definition, Levi characteristically uses the mode of elegy.
His favored landscapes are seen through rain, wind, and mist; he imagines himself "counting the pigeons in the snow-cold air, /listening to small voices of the other birds, /walking in the wind that sweeps this poem bare." His sense of history is darkened by a central awareness of what he calls "the class divisions built into the language" and by the certainty that the humanist values represented by the language are in decay, that "in our lives Europe is saying goodnight." The poems, then, move ambivalently but honestly between lament and gestures of encouragement. The long poem "Canticum," for instance, arguably one of Levi's major achievements, oscillates between exactly these poles when it attempts to feel out in language what a world radically different from the one we must live in might be like:
Not one by one but everyone breaks in,
we shall come back with armfuls of lilac
and the crooked trees behind our kitchens
will blossom again. It is the future
which says death to us and which we love.
The desire to discover alternatives to what Levi sees as the debilitation of middle-class English has prompted experimentation with kinds of writing—especially with a kind of gentle surrealism inherited largely from modern Greek poetry—not normally handled by serious contemporary writers in the English tradition. Levi has described this element in the work of George Pavlopoulos, which he has translated, as "a glitter on the skin of his poems." It might also be said of Levi himself. The surrealism of his poetic sequence Pancakes for the Queen of Babylon, for example, never entirely loses touch with the real and avoids the more obvious dottinesses of the tradition as it has previously manifested itself in English. This sequence and several others, such as "Thirty Ways of Drowning in the Sea," "Rivers," and "Five Ages of a Poet," are among Levi's most important works.
Levi's later poetry displays a deepened strength and authority, a sureness in his own voice and strategies. But it also reflects a striking out in some interesting new directions. There is a collection of vignettes, like "Officers and Gentlemen," that set a particular social class in the ironic perspectives of history. There also is a handful of finely achieved, tenderly dignified love poems, and the grotesquerie of the "Pigs" sequence strikes an altogether different note:
Pigs refuse pork sausages
coated in chocolate. They do sniff them.
Sows murder piglets.
What has some smell of incest
is not sheer cold horror.
Who write this, an old silver-bristle.
I am brutish enough.
They are brutish enough.
Levi's is a unique voice in contemporary English poetry; there is absolutely no one remotely like him. His sadness, his humor, and his preposterously resilient assertiveness ("An easy smell blowing about a hill /is the beginning of the truth about life," for instance) are intoxicating. His achievement is remarkable.