Clairvoyant with Hunger: Essays on James Dickey, James Wright, W.S. Merwin, Etc.

By Laurence Lieberman | Go to book overview

“Flowering Olives”

It is futile to pretend I am looking at something else. In fact, I am
doing my best to gaze as deeply as I can into the crevice of a single
olive blossom. There must be hundreds of thousands of these tiny
flowers, falling all over themselves among the silver leaves of a
single small tree. Too many for one tree to bear, they gather in
heaps beneath the twisted branches, clusters so thick on the top
of the low stone wall, all the breeze can do is blow them back and
forth across each other, the way a larger wind can do no more
with sand than allow it to build and dissolve and rebuild itself into
dunes. I have a single olive flower in my palm. I mean I had one.
Now the breeze has it, and I will never catch another. The whole
mile of this mountain road high above tiny golden Gargnano
gleams right now in a momentary noon of olive flowers, and I am
the only darkness alive in the Alps.

We can easily believe that the author of this poem was as surprised by the bleak sudden turn the work takes at the finish as we readers are. After all, we’ve been growing happily inured by many other James Wright poems to his taking delight in the olives, olive trees, and indeed the blossoms, as one of the most commanding glories of the Italian countryside. A source of undoubted pure joy … But the amazing dark insight of the ending burgeons as we begin rereading the work.

Yes, I believe that my second reading of the opening phrase has a more devastating impact, even, than the shock of the last line. “It is futile to pretend” now seems to underscore the true pervasive mood of this purported celebration of the effusive beauties of Nature. There now seems to be futility in the pretense that this lyric’s gush, or splurge, of beauteous

-87-

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Clairvoyant with Hunger: Essays on James Dickey, James Wright, W.S. Merwin, Etc.
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iv
  • Clairvoyant with Hunger vi
  • Part 1 - James Dickey, Poems from the Eagle’S Mile 1
  • “the Eagle’S Mile” 2
  • “weeds” 7
  • “expanses” 10
  • “farmers” 13
  • “form” 16
  • “poem” 20
  • Homage to the Unburied: a Column - “sleepers” 30
  • “snow Thickets” 35
  • “the Three” 38
  • “the Six” 42
  • “circuit” 46
  • “eagles” 49
  • “night Bird” 51
  • “daybreak” 53
  • Warrior, Visionary, Natural Philosopher: James Dickey’S to the White Sea 56
  • Part 2 - James Wright’S Prose Poems 73
  • Of Two Sublimities: Love Poems “a Small Grove” 74
  • “in Gallipoli” 77
  • “the Gift of Change” 82
  • “flowering Olives” 87
  • “camomilla” 90
  • “may Morning” 96
  • “piccolini” 99
  • “regret for a Spider Web” 103
  • “the Snail at Assisi” 108
  • “the Sunlight Falling at Peace in Moret-Sur-Loing” 114
  • Paradigm for Prose Poems 118
  • “the Secret of Light” 119
  • “bari, Old and Young” 129
  • Part 3 - W.S. Merwin: Apotheosis of the Lepers 133
  • W. S. Merwin: Apotheosis of the Lepers 134
  • Part 4 - Igniting Sparks from Tamura’S Smithy 168
  • Igniting Sparks from Tamura’S Smithy 169
  • Part 5 183
  • On the Brink of Secession: Gwendolyn Brooks “the Wall” 184
  • “the Laggard Bird,” by Dunya Mikhail 192
  • David Bottoms’ Grueling Miracle: Faith in Middle Age 219
  • Part 6 - The Pull of the Sentence: on My Influences 250
  • Voice to Voice 251
  • The Most Essential Element of All: an Interview with Laurence Lieberman 269
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