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The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs July 10, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Various recent events–some conversations, listening to a few local performance poets in person and their CDs–Moose Jackson in particular–put me in mind of the Beat angels, the people Kerouac described as “mad to live, made to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”.

And it lead by strange paths but for reasons self-apparent if you make the long read below to one of my favorite poems from many years back. (I grow afraid to take this book down, the 35 year old paperback’s glue coming undone). Those of us who read widely and we hope well, who still read poetry, who write a little: we desperately admire those who burn bright as tigers with their creative voice and stand a bit in awe of them.

This poem is not kind to its subjects, to the Admitted and their Schools, famous among themselves but as irrelevant as faery to the wide world, but it does not diminish them. It simply places then–a still life, fruit in a bowl in just such a light–into a world transformed by their presence. And if you don’t read poetry and know something of them then you walk through a world bereft of magic, as if visiting a museum blindfolded.

(This looses much of Olson’s formatting, but that can’t be helped here. You can read this in its proper format here.)

The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs
by Charles Olson

The lordly and isolate Satyrs—look at them come in
on the left side of the beach
like a motorcycle club! And the handsomest of them,
the one who has a woman, driving that snazzy
Wow, did you ever see even in a museum
such a collection of boddisatvahs, the way
they come up to their stop, each of them
as though it was a rudder
the way they have to sit above it
and come to a stop on it, the monumental solidity
of themselves, the Easter Island
they make of the beach, the Red-headed Men

These are the Androgynes,
the Fathers behind the father, the Great Halves

Or as that one was, inside his pants, the Yiddish poet
a vegetarian. Or another—all in his mouth—a snarl
of the Sources. Or the one I loved most, who once,
once only, let go the pain, the night he got drunk,
and I put him to bed, and he said, Bad blood.

Or the one who cracks and doesn’t know
that what he thinks are a thousand questions are suddenly
a thousand lumps thrown up where the cloaca
again has burst: one looks into the face and exactly as suddenly
it isn’t the large eyes and nose but the ridiculously small mouth
which you are looking down as one end of
—as the Snarled Man
is a monocyte.

Hail the ambiguous Fathers, and look closely
at them, they are the unadmitted, the club of Themselves,
weary riders, but who sit upon the landscape as the Great
Stones. And only have fun among themselves. They are
the lonely ones

Hail them, and watch out. The rest of us,
on the beach as we had previously known it, did not know
there was this left side. As they came riding in from the sea
—we did not notice them until they were already creating
the beach we had not known was there—but we assume
they came in from the sea. We assume that. We don’t know.

In any case the whole sea was now a hemisphere,
and our eyes like half a fly’s, we saw twice as much. Every-
thing opened, even if the newcomers just sat, didn’t,
for an instant, pay us any attention. We were as we had been,
in that respect. We were as usual, the children were being fed pop
and potato chips, and everyone was sprawled as people are
on a beach. Something had happened but the change
wasn’t at all evident. A few drops of rain
would have made more of a disturbance.

There we were. They, in occupation of the whole view
in front of us and off to the left where we were not used to look.
And we, watching them pant from their exertions, and talk to each other,
the one in the convertible the only one who seemed to be circulating
And he was dressed in magnificent clothes, and the woman with him
a dazzling blond, the new dye making her hair a delicious
streaked ash. She was as distant as the others. She sat in her flesh too.

These are our counterparts, the unknown ones.

They are here. We do not look upon them as invaders. Dimensionally

they are larger than we—all but the woman. But we are not suddenly

small. We are as we are. We don’t even move, on the beach.

It is a stasis. Across nothing at all we stare at them.
We can see what they are. They don’t notice us. They have merely
and suddenly moved in. They occupy our view. They are between us
and the ocean. And they have given us a whole new half of beach.

As of this moment, there is nothing else to report.
It is Easter Island transplanted to us. With the sun, and a warm
summer day, and sails out on the harbor they’re here, the Con-
temporaries. They have come in.

Except for the stirring of the leader, they are still
catching their breath. They are almost like scooters the way
they sit there, up a little, on their thing. It is as though
the extra effort of it tired them the most. Yet that just there
was where their weight and separateness—their immensities—
lay. Why they seem like boddisatvahs. The only thing one noticed
is the way their face breaks when they call across to each other.
Or actually speak quite quietly, not wasting breath. But the face
loses all containment, they are fifteen year old boys at the moment
they speak to each other. They are not gods. They are not even stone.
They are doubles. They are only Source. When they act like us
they go to pieces. One notices then that their skin
is only creased like red-neck farmers. And that they are all
freckled. The red-headed people have the hardest time
to possess themselves. Is it because they were over-
fired? Or why—even to then beautiful women—do the red ones
have only that half of the weight?

We look at them, and begin to know. We begin to see
who they are. We see why they are satyrs, and why one half
of the beach was unknown to us. And now that it is known,
now that the beach goes all the way to the headland we thought
we were huddling ourselves up against, it turns out it is the
same. It is beach. The Visitors—Resters—who, by being there,
made manifest what we had not known—that the beach fronted wholly
to the sea—have only done that, completed the beach.

The difference is
we are more on it. The beauty of the white of the sun’s light, the
blue the water is, and the sky, the movement on the painted lands-
cape, the boy-town the scene was, is now pierced with angels and
with fire. And winter’s ice shall be as brilliant in its time as
life truly is, as Nature is only the offerer, and it is we
who look to see what the beauty is.

These visitors, now stirring
to advance, to go on wherever they do go restlessly never completing
their tour, going off on their motorcycles, each alone except for
the handsome one, isolate huge creatures wearing down nothing as
they go, their huge third leg like carborundum, only the vault
of their being taking rest, the awkward boddhas

We stay. And watch them
gather themselves up. We have no feeling except love. They are not
ours. They are of another name. These are what the gods are. They
look like us. They are only in all parts larger. But the size is
only different. The difference is, they are not here, they are not
on this beach in this sun which, tomorrow, when we come to swim,
will be another summer day. They can’t talk to us. We have no desire
to stop them any more than, as they made their camp, only possibly
the woman in the convertible one might have wanted to be familiar
with. The leader was too much as they.

They go. And the day


1. Odd Words « Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans - March 18, 2010

[…] If I were going to quote Olson, I’d probably go straight for The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs, except, um, well, I’ve just done that recently. […]


2. Wendy Goldman Rohm - March 11, 2011

i had a dream last night where this phrase came up in the dream.
“the lordly and isolate satyrs.”

it was a powerful dream and i could not remember where the phrase came

i googled it to discover it was the poem that i had not read it since i was 19
and studying with George F. Butterick, the executor of Olson’s literary estate and one of Olson’s disciples.

Butterick died of cancer at a young age a few years after i studied with him. and i had the dream in the wake of my father’s recent death, out of the blue, the line of the poem i had forgotten came up.

i think my father’s death awakened my grief for the death of Butterick, an important mentor in my life.

in the dream a man lay dying, and i looked at his feet. they were the feet of a satyr, half hooves, half human. i said “you are a god. no one knows that.”

the man in the dream smiled. and i knew he would never really ever die.

i did not know what i dreamed. until now.

to all the great poets, men, mentors, fathers, gods and lovers who
will never die…

wendy goldman rohm


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