Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419
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...
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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 and division from sacred consciousness, but Maximus suggests that the continued force of human attentions would eventually redeem the fallen world and unify it by the almost telekinetic power of his consciousness.
Though Olson still rages against the dehumanizing encroachments of progress, he comes closer to a deeper understanding and acceptance of the essential mystery at the heart of existence. “Praise the mystery/ of creation, that in matter alone.” By the conclusion of the volume, his concerns have become completely personal. He knows that he is dying of cancer of the liver and imagines that he is a stone. He also locates himself, finally, in both his origin and destiny in the next-to-last poem of the book, “Mother Earth Alone.” The very last Maximus poem consists of only eight words that brutally summarize the attenuated range of his awareness in the final days of his illness: “my wife my car my color and myself.” Haunted by the death of his wife and jaundiced by cancer, he returned to the source of his life as a poet—his own personal consciousness, from which an entire mythic world had emerged.