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!
                What soul
is without fault?
Nobody studies
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
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)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

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


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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

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

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.