Volume 3 of The Maximus Poems was never completed by Olson, who died in 1970, but among the mass of material left after his death were indications of certain directions that later scholars followed in gathering the material and organizing it into a coherent form. University of Connecticut professors George Butterick and Charles Boer devoted many years to a thoughtful arrangement of the materials for volume 3. Olson had determined the first and last poems in the collection, and Butterick and Boer followed the same order that Olson had used in the first two volumes—essentially chronological—in their edition. Many of the poems included were left in an unrevised form.
Olson’s attentions had changed dramatically in this volume, and many of the poems became quite personal, reflecting the private crises that he was undergoing, specifically the tragic death of his wife in an automobile crash in 1964. The “Maximus” of this volume continues to dig into the local history and geological data of Gloucester, but he finds himself repeatedly confronting the bare earth itself. Unlike Wallace Stevens and Robert Duncan, whose imaginations found satisfaction in fictive certainties, Olson’s inability to trust the powers of the imagination drove him to search for the divine in the physical. He stated it quite directly: “I believe in God/ as fully physical.” In poem 143, “The Festival Aspects,” he rehearses the various stages of humanity’s Fall...
(The entire section is 419 words.)