"O Taste and See" by Denise LevertovMan.jpg

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,

meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Paraphrase of "O Taste and See" by Denise Levertov

Life is too short,
I see posters saying "O taste and see that the Lord is good".
These posters suggest to me that god is good, that life is beautiful,
and that this world we live in is one of beauty and pleasure.
Through our lives there will be pains and joys, but
Regardless of risk we face in this life,
We must indulge our senses in our environment,
Because too soon we will die.
So wait not for your hunger to live to be satisfied.
And reach for every meaningful experience we gain in life.

Interpreting "O Taste and See"

“O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov is a poem that urges its readers to experience life to the fullest using metaphors illustrating how one should live and allusions to Wordsworth's romantic poem and the Bible. The first two verses are, “The world is not with us enough” and are the reversal of William Wordsworth’s first verse in his sonnet, “The World Is Too Much With Us”. In "The World Is Too Much With Us", Wordsworth writes of the obsession with altering the world and turning it into what humans perceive as beautiful. Wordsworth writes ,"The world is too much with us," he means for it to be interpreted as the world has conformed to our needs. When Levertov began "O Taste and See" with the verse "the world is not with us enough," she means it to be interpreted two ways. The first is that live is short and the time we have with it is not nearly enough. The second is that we cannot sit back and observe the world to truly experience its wonders.

The next two verses provide the imagery of Levertov riding the subway and passing posters with Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good” written upon them. The meaning of this verse is that God is good. However, one must submerge themselves into this life to truly experience his goodness. This verse provides the transition to the true meaning of her poem. Having a very religious background, it can be assumed that Levertov links the meaning of this verse of life itself. Therefore, this verse provides further strengthens Levertov true message which is one must indulge their sense in their surroundings to realize the beauty and pleasure that this world has to offer.

From verse eight to verse eleven, Levertov lists the pleasures and pains of life. She uses obvious words such as grief, weather, and mercy. However, she also uses the words language and tangerine to illustrate her point. Levertov makes the point that biting then chewing then savoring is the process of life. We must take everything in (including the good and the bad) and we must live it out. The tangerine also serves as a metaphor for life. The tangerine is known for a bitter peel and often it's not easy to peel it off. However, once the peel is taken off, what you find is something far different from the peel itself. The edible part of the tangerine lies within the peel and is sweet. Life is often the same. Situations or life itself sometimes is initially bitter and unpleasant but once the hardships are endured, the reward is something sweeter.

From verse twelve to thirteen, Levertov tells her readers that death is close, "..transform into our flesh our deaths, crossing the street.." Levertov means this as we will be dead one day. Levertov uses the metaphor of crssing the street as death because it signifies going from one place to another. Levertov believes in Heaven. Therefore when writing, "...crossing the street.." Levertov refers to the belief that when one dies they go from this world to Heaven or Hell.

Verse fourteen through sixteen provides the conclusion to this poem Levertov asks her readers to satisfy our hunger. She writes, Levertov explains that to satisfy one’s hunger, one cannot sit waiting for it to be satisfied but one must reach out for the food. She illustrates this by using the metaphor, "...plum, quince, living in the orchard and being hungry, and plucking the fruit." Levertov uses fruit as a metaphor for life's experiences and lessons. When living in an orchard, one is surround by fruits of all kinds. By continuing the fruit metaphor, it can interpreted that Levertov means to say that this world is filled with everything we could ever want. "Being hungry" can be interpreted as the desire for life and when we feel this hunger, we must to "pluck the fruit" or in other words, submerge ourselves in this life. We cannot sit and wait for our need to live to be fulfilled. We must reach for each meaningful experience we gain in life.tangerine.jpg

Allusion [uh- loo -zhuh n ]: An instance of indirect reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication.

How Psalm 34:8 and "The World Is Too Much With Us" tie into "O Taste and See":

In "O Taste and See", the author Denise Levertov uses allusions to convey it's message. These devices prove to be necessary to the meaning of the poem as they form the basis of her argument as references to other works of literature and pre-existing ideas.

The first allusion uses a reference to William Wordsworth's poem "The World Is Too Much With Us". She uses the converse of this statement to say "the world is not with us long enough" i.e. "we do not live long enough". "The World Is Too Much With Us" asks its readers to take a more relaxed approach to life. However, by using the reverse of this statement the meaning of the "O Taste and See" becomes the opposite of that of "The World Is Too Much With Us". Which exactly ties into the following verses as Levertov describes the carpe diem approach to life; seize the day, and don't waste time worrying about the petty problems or obstacles you are faced with in life.

This is followed by an allusion to the bible verse in Psalms which states "Taste and See that the Lord is good". By referenceing to this verse, Levertov makes the point that th is life is good. This is also a reference to her youth, as one of religious turmoil. From a young age, Levertov was raised with many religious influences in her life. One of the most important people that impacted her religious was her father. Her father was a Hasidic Jew who converted to Christianity while attending a German university. Thus religion, has become a common thread in many of Levertov's poems.

She uses a variety of references to objects and emotions or ideas we would encounter in our day to day lives such as grief, tangerines, plums, weather, language. She uses these to paint a vivid picture of what she is trying to say. She utilizes the words “to breathe them, bite, chew, and savor” to reference to what we should do with our surroundings. She uses the "language" because it can be a blessing and a curse but nonetheless should be used. And she uses the "tangerine" to illustrate a situation or life as a whole having a bitter outer shell, but to every gray cloud there is a silver lining and to every bitter tangerine there is a sweet inside and life is full of suffering but beyond the pain there is goodness. So live life as completely and happily as you can, because beyond the initial bitterness, there is a sweet reward to be had for those who do.

Structure of "O Taste and See"

"O Taste and See" is written iambically. When a poem is written iambically, the syllables change between stressed and unstressed syllables every syllable. There is no set meter. One can set this because the number of syllables in each verse have no set pattern. It is also written in blank verse. Blank verse means that there is no set rhyme within the poem. One can come to this conclusion by observing the last word in every verse.

The irregularities of each verse in "O Taste and See" provide an ironic twist in terms of its allusions to "The World Is Too Much With Us". Wordsworth's poem is the epitome of a traditional romantic poem. It's structure is set in terms of rhyming and each verse is a complete thought. On the contrary, each verse in "O Taste and See" does not contain a complete thought and its rhyming is in no way set. This further projects Levertov's goal to defy the meanings within "The World Is Too Much With Us"

Other contents:

More About "The World Is Too Much With Us" and Psalm 34:8

Life of Denise Levertov