I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You

By Charles Olson 1910–1970 Charles Olson
Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood   
                                        jewels & miracles, I, Maximus
                                        a metal hot from boiling water, tell you   
                                        what is a lance, who obeys the figures of   
                                        the present dance

1
the thing you’re after
may lie around the bend
of the nest (second, time slain, the bird! the bird!
And there! (strong) thrust, the mast! flight
                                                                  (of the bird
                                                                  o kylix, o
                                                                  Antony of Padua
                                                                  sweep low, o bless

the roofs, the old ones, the gentle steep ones
on whose ridge-poles the gulls sit, from which they depart,

                                                                  And the flake-racks
of my city!

2
love is form, and cannot be without   
important substance (the weight
say, 58 carats each one of us, perforce   
our goldsmith’s scale

                                           feather to feather added
                                           (and what is mineral, what
                                           is curling hair, the string
                                           you carry in your nervous beak, these

                                           make bulk, these, in the end, are   
                                           the sum

                                           (o my lady of good voyage
                                           in whose arm, whose left arm rests   
no boy but a carefully carved wood, a painted face, a schooner!   
a delicate mast, as bow-sprit for

                                                      forwarding

3
the underpart is, though stemmed, uncertain   
is, as sex is, as moneys are, facts!
facts, to be dealt with, as the sea is, the demand
that they be played by, that they only can be, that they must   
be played by, said he, coldly, the
ear!

By ear, he sd.
But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last,
that! o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen
when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?

when even our bird, my roofs,   
cannot be heard

when even you, when sound itself is neoned in?

when, on the hill, over the water
where she who used to sing,
when the water glowed,   
black, gold, the tide   
outward, at evening

when bells came like boats   
over the oil-slicks, milkweed   
hulls

And a man slumped,   
attentionless,
against pink shingles

o sea city)

4
one loves only form,
and form only comes
into existence when
the thing is born

                           born of yourself, born
                           of hay and cotton struts,
                           of street-pickings, wharves, weeds   
                           you carry in, my bird

                                                            of a bone of a fish   
                                                            of a straw, or will   
                                                            of a color, of a bell   
                                                            of yourself, torn

5
love is not easy
but how shall you know,
New England, now
that pejorocracy is here, how
that street-cars, o Oregon, twitter
in the afternoon offend
a black-gold loin?

                              how shall you strike,
                              o swordsman, the blue-red black   
                              when, last night, your aim
                              was mu-sick, mu-sick, mu-sick   
                              And not the cribbage game?

                                                          (o Gloucester-man,   
                                                          weave
                                                          your birds and fingers   
                                                          new, your roof-tops,   
                                                          clean shit upon racks   
                                                          sunned on
                                                          American
                                                          braid
                                                          with others like you, such   
                                                          extricable surface   
                                                          as faun and oral,   
                                                          satyr lesbos vase

                                                          o kill kill kill kill kill   
                                                          those
                                                          who advertise you   
                                                          out)

6
in! in! the bow-sprit, bird, the beak
in, the bend is, in, goes in, the form
that which you make, what holds, which is
the law of object, strut after strut, what you are, what you must be, what   
the force can throw up, can, right now hereinafter erect,
the mast, the mast, the tender
mast!
                              The nest, I say, to you, I Maximus, say
                              under the hand, as I see it, over the waters
                              from this place where I am, where I hear,
                              can still hear

                              from where I carry you a feather   
                              as though, sharp, I picked up
                              in the afternoon delivered you
                              a jewel,
                                             it flashing more than a wing,   
                              than any old romantic thing,
                              than memory, than place,
                              than anything other than that which you carry   
                              than that which is,
                              call it a nest, around the head of, call it   
                              the next second
                              than that which you   
                              can do!

Charles Olson, “I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You” 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: The Maximus Poems (University of California Press, 1987)

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Poet Charles Olson 1910–1970

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Religion, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Heroes & Patriotism, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Activities, Nature, Christianity, Jobs & Working, 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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