From America a Prophecy: Anthology as Collage (Dekanawideh, Whitman, Pound, Stein)

[In a previous posting on Poems & Poetics I followed Susan Howe’s lead in calling attention to the effort by George Quasha & myself – in America a Prophecy (1973) – to create a new form of anthology, not so much a ranking of notable American poets as a juxtaposition of disparate, often incongruous voices, putting collage or assemblage at the service of a new omnipoetics, “from pre-Columbian times to the present.” While that much was clear to some at the time of first publication, to others – like Helen Vendler in a characteristically obtuse review of the book – the point of the work was clearly beyond their tolerance or comprehension. What appears here, then, are the four opening poems from America a Prophecy, brought together as a foretelling of the total work to follow. That work, after a long hiatus, is newly re-available through Quasha’s Station Hill Press – a limited printing but enough to get the book back into circulation. ]


RE BEGINNINGS

The Tree of the Great Peace [Iroquois, c. 1450]

I am Dekanawideh and with the chiefs of the Five Nations
I plant the Tree of the Great Peace. ...

Roots have spread out from the Tree of the Great Peace. ...
the Great White Roots of Peace. ...

Any man of any nation
may trace the roots to their source and be welcome
to shelter
beneath the Great Peace. ...

I
Dekanawideh
and the chiefs of our Five Nations of the Great Peace
we now uproot the tallest pine

Into the cavity thereby made
we cast all weapons of war
Into the depths of the earth
into the deep underneath. ...

we cast all weapons of war

We bury them from sight forever. ...
and we plant again the tree. ...

Thus shall the Great Peace be established. ...


– Adapted by william brandon, after Arthur C. Parker

 

 

Walt Whitman: from Song of Myself [1855]

Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sunrise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sunrise out of me.

We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun,
We found our own my soul in the calm and cool of the daybreak.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.

Speech is the twin of my vision . . . . it is unequal to measure itself.

It provokes me forever,
It says sarcastically, Walt, you understand enough . . . . why don’t you let it out
           then?

Come now I will not be tantalized . . . . you conceive too much of articulation.

Do you not know how the buds beneath are folded?
Waiting in gloom protected by frost,
The dirt receding before my prophetical screams,
I underlying causes to balance them at last,
My knowledge my live parts . . . . it keeping tally with the meaning of things,
Happiness . . . . which whoever hears me let him or her set out in search of this
            day.

My final merit I refuse you . . . . I refuse putting from me the best I am.


Encompass worlds but never try to encompass me,
I crowd your noisiest talk by looking toward you.

Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and every thing else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I confound the topmost skeptic.

 

 

Ezra Pound: Religio, or The Child’s Guide to Knowledge [1918]

           What is a god?
           A god is an eternal state of mind.
           What is a faun?
           A faun is an elemental creature.
           What is a nymph?
           A nymph is an elemental creature.
           When is a god manifest?
           When the states of mind take form.
           When does a man become a god?
           When he enters one of these states of mind.
           What is the nature of the forms whereby a god is
manifest?
           They are variable but retain certain distinguishing
characteristics.
           Are all eternal states of mind gods?
           We consider them to be so.
           Are all durable states of mind gods?
           They are not.
           By what characteristic may we know the divine
forms?
           By beauty.
           And if the presented forms are unbeautiful?
           They are demons.
           If they are grotesque?
           They may be well-minded genii.
           What are the kinds of knowledge?
           There are immediate knowledge and hearsay.
           Is hearsay of any value?
           Of some.
           What is the greatest hearsay?
           The greatest hearsay is the tradition of the gods.
           Of what use is this tradition?
           It tells us to be ready to look.
           In what manner do gods appear?
           Formed and formlessly.
           To what do they appear when formed?
           To the sense of vision.
           And when formless?
           To the sense of knowledge.
           May they when formed appear to anything save
the sense of vision?
           We may gain a sense of their presence as if they
were standing behind us.
           And in this case they may possess form?
           We may feel that they do possess form.
           Are there names for the gods?
           The gods have many names. It is by names that
they are handled in the tradition.
           Is there harm in using these names?
           There is no harm in thinking of the gods by their
names.
           How should one perceive a god, by his name?
           It is better to perceive a god by form, or by the
sense of knowledge, and after perceiving him thus,
to consider his name or to "think what god it may be."
           Do we know the number of the gods?
           It would be rash to say that we do. A man should
be content with a reasonable number.
           What are the gods of this rite?
           Apollo, and in some sense Helios, Diana in some
of her phases, also the Cytherean goddess.
           To what other gods is it fitting, in harmony or in
adjunction with these rites, to give incense?
           To Kore and to Demeter, also to lares and to
oreiads and to certain elemental creatures.
           How is it fitting to please these lares and other
creatures?
           It is fitting to please and to nourish them with
flowers.
           Do they have need of such nutriment?
           It would be foolish to believe that they have,
nevertheless it bodes well for us that they should
be pleased to appear.
           Are these things so in the east?
           This rite is made for the West.

 

 

Gertrude Stein: from “Winning His Way” [1931]

What is poetry. This. Is poetry.
Delicately formed. And pleasing. To the eye.
What is fame. Fame is. The care of. Their. Share.
And so. It. Rhymes better.
A pleasure in wealth. Makes. Sunshine.
And a. Pleasure. In sunshine. Makes wealth.
They will manage very well. As they. Please. Them.
What is fame. They are careful. Of awakening. The. Name.
And so. They. Wait. With oxen. More. Than one.
They speak. Of matching. Country oxen. And.
They speak. Of waiting. As if. They. Had won.
By their. Having. Made. A pleasure. With. Their.
May they. Make it. Rhyme. All. The time.
This is. A pleasure. In poetry. As often. As. Ever.
They will. Supply it. As. A measure.
Be why. They will. Often. Soften.
As they may. As. A. Treasure.