Maximus, to himself

By Charles Olson 1910–1970 Charles Olson
I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross   
a wet deck.
               The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar. Was delayed,
and not content with the man’s argument
that such postponement   
is now the nature of
obedience,
               that we are all late
               in a slow time,
               that we grow up many
               And the single   
               is not easily
               known

It could be, though the sharpness (the achiote)   
I note in others,
makes more sense
than my own distances. The agilities

               they show daily
               who do the world’s   
               businesses
               And who do nature’s   
               as I have no sense   
               I have done either

I have made dialogues,
have discussed ancient texts,
have thrown what light I could, offered   
what pleasures
doceat allows
               
               But the known?
This, I have had to be given,
a life, love, and from one man   
the world.
               Tokens.
               But sitting here
               I look out as a wind   
               and water man, testing   
               And missing
               some proof

I know the quarters
of the weather, where it comes from,   
where it goes. But the stem of me,   
this I took from their welcome,
or their rejection, of me

               And my arrogance
               was neither diminished   
               nor increased,
               by the communication


2

It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,   
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet

Charles Olson, “Maximus, to himself” from The Maximus Poems, published by the University of California Press. Copyright © 1983 by Charles Olson. Reprinted with the permission of The Literary Estate of Charles Olson.

Source: Selected Poems (University of California Press, 1993)

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Poet Charles Olson 1910–1970

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Heroes & Patriotism, Mythology & Folklore

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Persona

Biography

Charles Olson was an innovative poet and essayist whose work influenced numerous other writers during the 1950s and 1960s. In his influential essay on projective (or open) verse, Olson asserts that "a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Heroes & Patriotism, Mythology & Folklore

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Persona

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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