Thomas F. Merrill: On "Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele"
Gerald Van de Wiele was a young art student at Black Mountain College and the "Variations" that Olson dedicates to him seem like responses to some kind of poetic challenge. It is as if Olson wished to demonstrate his virtuosity to skeptics by deliberately aping the poetic styles of others. Section I is clearly a prosodic retort to William Carlos Williams, which a cursory comparison to "Portrait of a Lady" will instantly reveal. Similarly, the pattern of the variations themselves echoes Wallace Stevens's "Sea Surface Full of Clouds." Hints of Yeats and Pound might also be detected, but predictably, even in conscious imitation, Olson's "blind obedience" to "personage" never quite permits him to sustain the integrity of each variation. Each section inevitably closes with an unmistakable Olson signature.
Olson takes his theme directly from Rimbaud's "O saisons, o Chateaux" from Une Saison en Enfer. The lines that he particularly favors with adaptive appreciation are these:
Ce charme a pris âme et corps Et disperse les efforts. O saisons, o chateaux!
The charm of the seasons that seizes the mind and the body and disperses their efforts is treated in these three varied modes by Olson:
1) the seasons seize the soul and the body, and make mock of any dispersed effort. The hour of death is the only trespass . . .
2) 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?...
3) Envy drags herself off. The fault of the body and soul --that they are not one— the matitudinal cock clangs and singleness: we salute you season of no bungling
Olson typically wrenches an apparent pastoral mood into an epistemological stance. The power of the season brings body and soul into healthy unity and thus effectuates that Sumerian "will to cohere," which "mocks" effete dispersion. Moreover, the second variation emphasizes Olson's commitment to an obedience ("your life has its orders"). Knowledge that we are properly obedient creatures bebolden to the dictates of the "life within us" removes our "envy" of Spring, that is, an envy that is a symptom of the "lyrical interference of the individual as ego." In short, these "Variations" diagnose the human malady once again as a split between mind and body—"that they are not one"--and prescribes the cure: "singleness"--the reintegration with "that with which we are most familiar."
|Title||Thomas F. Merrill: On "Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Thomas F. Merrill||Criticism Target||Charles Olson|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||27 May 2020|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||The Poetry of Charles Olson: A Primer|
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