Christopher Beach: On "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow"

Duncan sees in Pound's early writing on Imagism and on the troubadours the possibility of an almost Whitmanian aesthetic, but one that is too firmly entrenched in the past. Pound's thought "does not go forward with contemporary scientific imagination

to a poetic vision of the Life Process and the Universe but goes back to Ficino and the Renaissance ideas" (PC, 190). In Duncan's "opening" poem, "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow," he creates an ideogram that can include both of his predecessors and that has indications of both past and future.

 

It is only a dream of the grass blowing

east against the source of the sun

in an hour before the sun's going down

 

whose secret we see in a children's game

of ring a round of roses told.

 

The "dream" and the "secret" are words from the realm of mystery, a level of language Duncan feels Pound tries to exclude from his poetic world. These are words "pregnant" with meaning, and they bring "children" into the field of knowledge and experience that make up the poem and the book, this particular manifestation of future life is, like the female sexuality that produced it, absent from Pound's vision.

But the image works on two other levels as well: the "grass blowing / east against the source of the sun" is a metamorphosis of a Poundian ideogram, that of east as the sun caught in branches, and a powerful evocation of the Pound of the Pisan Cantos and after—"a man on whom the sun has gone down" (C, 430) .These same three lines also allude to Whitman, to the grass of Leaves of Grass blowing in the winds of time and to the "mysterious" and "prophetic" message of Democratic Vistas and that dream vision, "Song of Myself."

There is also a Duncanesque pun here: "the source of the sun" is also the source of the son, Whitman as father to Pound in the last "hour" of his life and subsequently Pound as the father to Duncan himself. Duncan is now a child seeking "permission " to enter his phase of "mature" poetry, ready to take responsibility for the field as "a given property of the mind / that certain bounds hold against chaos." "We see" (vision as phanopoeia and as apotheosis) the clear and defined image (though through a dream) as we experience the explicitly musical (melopoeic) properties of language in the nursery-rhyme line "of ring a round of roses told." We also encounter the logopoeia of a "dance of the mind" at the end of the poem, a dance that involves the juxtaposition of two central images. The last line of the poem, "everlasting omen of what is," reconciles past, present, and future, bringing together in the poetic process a childlike openness to new experience, the work of the present poet, and the inspiration provided by predecessors such as Whitman and Pound.

As Norman Finkelstein has observed, "Often I Am Permitted . . . " is a "seminal post-modern lyric"; it is an embodiment of the Poundian virtues of precision and workmanship but at the same time allows the freer play of "rhetoric" that is a legacy of Whitman and of the Romantic tradition. It is a poem intended to be read in the tradition of Whitman, Pound, and Williams as an "open" and "inclusive" work, less interested in its own autonomous "intramural" relations than in its multivalent relationship to sources in the natural world (spatial), in poetic models (temporal), and in the realm of an informing spiritual experience (eternal and virtually unbounded) that allows a larger field of poetry to be "folded" into the poem. The poem also serves more locally as an introduction to the poems that follow it in the book and, indeed, through the open-ended "Structure of Rime" sequence, to poems that are to come after the end of the book. Most of the poem's resonances are not apparent without a knowledge of the other poems in The Opening of the Field and, indeed, without some previous knowledge of Duncan's work and derivations.

Duncan's vision of the field, "meadow," or "pasture" as a communal place consisting of various interacting living communities, yet also open to the human community, establishes the poem and the book to follow in the choric tradition of Duncan's predecessors. It moves from the personal statement of the title to the shared vision of a secret "we see in a children's game." Like Duncan's poem, the secret can be appreciated only in the context of a larger community of concerns. Duncan's poetry in The Opening of the Field demonstrates the desire he shares with Pound and his other primary models to reach outside the concerns of a contained, isolated, solipsistic, or hermetic "lyric self" to the needs of a poetic or artistic community, to the needs of a "world community" of common ecological and spiritual concerns, and to the sense of community as nation exemplified by Whitman's Democratic Vistas and Pound's "American Cantos."

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Criticism Overview
Title Christopher Beach: On "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Christopher Beach Criticism Target Robert Duncan
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition
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