Poems," which becomes a place for prophecy and spiritual exercises, where he can talk about the obligations of a spiritualistic poetics. The serial poems are imbedded in the context of the other poems, and here the idea of a large collage poem takes the form of a "grand collage," collecting and modifying ideas and images in shifting relationships with other contexts.
The conflicts raised in the cultural and poetry communities by the war in Vietnam dominate poems such as "Up Rising, Passages 25" and "The Soldiers, Passages 26." That theme continues in the following book, Ground Work: Before the War (1984). This volume collects groups of poems published separately: "Tribunals," "Poems from the Margins of Thom gunns Moly," "A Seventeenth Century Suite," and Dante Études. Duncan stands before the war as he would stand before a mirror contemplating the themes of corrupt manipulation of government against the will of the people, the destruction of natural geography and the spiritual landscape, and the grimness of war suppressing human desire. "Passages 35, Before the Judgment" is Duncans prophecy about the power of war over the human will. Duncan summons the support of ancient gods of wisdom, "The Golden Ones," who "move in invisible realms" to fight against political leaders, in whom "stupidity thickens," and to reveal the laws of eternal goodness "against the works of unworthy men, unfeeling judgments, and cruel deeds." The intensity of this prophecy also shows up in Duncan's everyday life. As shown in "The Torn Cloth," his friendship with Denise levertov was shattered under the strain of political and poetic protests. "Years of our rapport," he writes, were wrecked by "War and the Scars upon the land." The Dante Études, on the other hand, trace the origins of Duncan's poetics in Dante's ideas of empire and human worth. The volume ends with Duncan's dynamic affirmation of human love in "Circulations of the Song."
The theme of the darker meaning of life in a constant state of war continues into the final volume, Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987). Again, poems appear in groups—"Veil, Turbine, Cord & Bird," "Regulators," "Structure of Rime: Of the Five Songs"—as well as separately. In "To Master Baudelaire," the French poet becomes a model for defining the sick ened life of the mind, as the theme of entering a "foyer," the entrance to a new language, tries to lift the gloom of the dark to reassert human vision and worth. In the late poem "Passages, the Dignities," Duncan takes stock of his life in poetry; his ties with Olson— "Wisdom as such must wonder"; and his relationship with Blaser, "the moth's / ephemeral existence." Despite the "black Night that hides the elemental germ," he perceives that the persistence of "the extending scale of imagined humanity" has a difficult time surviving in the bleak contemporary world. The elegiac mode of his early poems now reaches points of despair about the possibilities of humankind redeeming itself. The final poem of the volume, "After a Long Illness," recounts the failure of Duncan's kidneys that controlled his life from 1984 onward, even as the darkness of war and spiritual suppression controlled society. Only "the imagination knows" the vision in the meadow, the brilliant "pool of thought" that redeems life itself. Duncan's imagination transforms the elegiac lament of his early poetry into that "grand collage" of poetry powerful enough to gather the persistent wisdom of humanity into a prophecy of fulfillment, surrounded by the darkness of corrupted political systems.
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