The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Charles Olson Reads “Maximus, to Himself”: A Rare 1963 Recording

Charles Olson (December 27, 1910–January 10, 1970) is one of the most beloved and influential modernist poets. He remains best-known for The Maximus Poems (public library) — a loose exploration of American history and a meditation on the philosophy of place, which he began in 1950 and continued to work on until his death from liver cancer in 1970.

The opening of his poem “Maximus, to himself” is one of my favorite lines in both literary history and the history of thought — so I was beyond delighted to discover this rare 1963 recording of Olson reading the poem himself, courtesy of my alma mater’s PennSound archive — the same treasure trove that gave us Adrienne Rich on love, happiness, and creativity. Enjoy:


I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross
a wet deck.
        The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar. Was delayed,
and not content with the man’s argument
that such postponement
is now the nature of

        that we are all late
        in a slow time,
        that we grow up many
        And the single
        is not easily

It could be, though the sharpness (the achiote)
I note in others,
makes more sense
than my own distances. The agilities

        they show daily
        who do the world’s
        And who do nature’s
        as I have no sense
        I have done either

I have made dialogues,
have discussed ancient texts,
have thrown what light I could, offered
what pleasures
doceat allows

        But the known?
This, I have had to be given,
a life, love, and from one man
the world.
        But sitting here
        I look out as a wind
        and water man, testing
        And missing
        some proof

I know the quarters
of the weather, where it comes from,
where it goes. But the stem of me,
this I took from their welcome,
or their rejection, of me

        And my arrogance
        was neither diminished
        nor increased,
        by the communication


It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet

Complement with T.S. Eliot reading “Burnt Norton,” Lucille Clifton reading “won’t you celebrate with me,” and Sylvia Plath reading “The Disquieting Muses.”

Published December 27, 2012




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