Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele

By Charles Olson 1910–1970 Charles Olson
I. Le Bonheur

dogwood flakes
what is green
 
the petals
from the apple
blow on the road
 
mourning doves
mark the sway
of the afternoon, bees
dig the plum blossoms
 
the morning
stands up straight, the night
is blue from the full of the April moon
 
iris and lilac, birds
birds, yellow flowers
white flowers, the Diesel
does not let up dragging
the plow
 
               as the whippoorwill,
the night’s tractor, grinds
his song
 
 
              and no other birds but us
are as busy (O saisons, O chateaux!
Délires!
 
                What soul
is without fault?
 
Nobody studies
happiness
 
Every time the cock crows
I salute him
 
I have no longer any excuse
for envy. My life
 
has been given its orders: the seasons
seize
 
the soul and the body, and make mock
of any dispersed effort. The hour of death
 
is the only trespass
 
 
II. The Charge
 
dogwood flakes
the green
 
the petals from the apple-trees
fall for the feet to walk on
 
the birds are so many they are
loud, in the afternoon
 
they distract, as so many bees do
suddenly all over the place
 
With spring one knows today to see
that in the morning each thing
 
is separate but by noon
they have melted into each other
 
and by night only crazy things
like the full moon and the whippoorwill
 
and us, are busy. We are busy
if we can get by that whiskered bird,
 
that nightjar, and get across, the moon
is our conversation, she will say
 
what soul
isn’t in default?
 
can you afford not to make
the magical study
 
which happiness is? do you hear
the cock when he crows? do you know the charge,
 
that you shall have no envy, that your life
has its orders, that the seasons
 
seize you too, that no body and soul are one
if they are not wrought
 
in this retort? that otherwise efforts
are efforts? And that the hour of your flight
 
will be the hour of your death?
 
 
III. Spring
 
The dogwood
lights up the day.
 
The April moon
flakes the night.
 
Birds, suddenly,
are a multitude
 
The flowers are ravined
by bees, the fruit blossoms
 
are thrown to the ground, the wind
the rain forces everything. Noise—
 
even the night is drummed
by whippoorwills, and we get
 
as busy, we plow, we move,
we break out, we love. The secret
 
which got lost neither hides
nor reveals itself, it shows forth
 
tokens. And we rush
to catch up. The body
 
whips the soul. In its great desire
it demands the elixir
 
In the roar of spring,
transmutations. Envy
 
drags herself off. The fault of the body and the soul
—that they are not one—
 
the matutinal cock clangs
and singleness: we salute you
 
season of no bungling

Charles Olson, “Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele” from The Collected Poems of Charles Olson. Copyright © 1987 by the Regents of the University of California. Reprinted with the permission of University of California Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Charles Olson (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 Living, Death, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Nature, Spring, Trees & Flowers, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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 Living, Death, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Nature, Spring, Trees & Flowers, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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