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This report is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

Olson and the Old World Adrian Clarke
Remembering Olson, I take time to be the central fact to man born in the Old World from the Chaldaean plain to now. Thus, perhaps, the French concern with Poe, the man who 'dug in', who 'had of himself' the street, rather than with the writers Olson thought of as the creators of the true American tradition, the recognition of whose alienness is denied the English by what is now no more than the circumstance of a shared language. If history was ritual and repetition for Melville, it can never be the latter for the European alive to the nature of his own tradition. Loss is the constant theme of our literature because we walk over the strata of our history, cannot, like frontiersmen, move on from achievements and failures through an amplitude of space. And we know the social and political ramifications of excavation: here synchronicity and obliviousness are equally illusory. When Du Bellay wrote his Roman sonnets:


Rome seule pouvait à Rome ressembler,
Rome seule pouvait Rome faire trembler . . .


he expressed a persisting common consciousness of a past at once unattainable and not to be escaped.

Olson would have it that what the Melville who wrote Moby Dick, the Melville whose function in sections 1, 4 and 5 of Call me Ishmael is in the retrospect of Olson's poetic career that of precursor, got from the Pacific was space and from the Old World, in ...


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