"There was a Youth whose Name was Thomas Granger"
Born in Massachusetts in 1910 and educated at Harvard, Charles Olson would develop his poetry to maturity while serving as teacher and then rector of the unorthodox Black Mountain College. An incredible sight at 6"10í tall, Olson became a poetic giant of the twentieth century by developing and practicing his theory of Projective Verse. Olson suggests that the poet is a medium who channels energy from the source of the poetry, through the poem itself, and into the reader. This theory insists that the act of reading the poem must be a high-energy experience (Merrill 137). Olsonís primary influences were Homer, Melville, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, Lawrence, Blake, Whitman and Nietzsche. But it was in the tradition of William Carlos Williamsí Paterson or Sherwood Andersonís Winesburg, Ohio that Olson wrote The Maximus Poems, an epic series about life in Olsonís hometown Gloucester, Mass.
Olson re-published all of his poems except the Maximus poems in Archaeologist of Morning, a book published just after Olsonís death in 1970. The title of this collection, or re-collection, comes from Olsonís view that he was writing in "the morning after the dispersion", after the lifting of all walls, all names, all limits. Olson rejects both humanism and anti-humanism. He rejects the notion of the poet as either commentator or observer. Instead, he sees the poet as a medium of the necessary experience of the poem.
Olson often combines plain language with historical settings such as Neolithic Man, the Pleistocene Age, the Hittites and the Maya. One such poem is "There was a Youth whose Name was Thomas Granger." This poem is one of two directly historical poems published in Olsonís collection The Distances, the other being "At Yorktown," (Bollobas 90). The singular theme of The Distances is the distance between the modern individual and his experience of reality (Merrill 90). "Thomas Granger" illustrates Olsonís insistence that historical fact can be transformed into relevant modern myth (Merrill 101).
Olsonís source for "Thomas Granger" is William Bradfordís History of Plymouth Plantation, which gives an account of the trial of Thomas Granger; charged of, convicted of and executed for committing indecent sexual acts with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey (Merrill 132). Olson has lifted the original text and altered the rhythm to create the poem. The poet speaks only twice in this poem: in the first two lines, and then in line 14 ("Rest, Tom, in your pit where they put you") (Von Hallberg 139). With the rest of the poem Olson juxtaposes fragments of the historical narrative, resulting in what Von Hallberg calls a "comic effect," (139).
The poem opens with Bradfordís claim that human or church laws are a vain attempt to withhold the inevitable flooding waters of sin. Bradford, and Olson, reminds the reader that acts as atrocious as those of Thomas Granger have occurred before. Section two of the poem simply relates the charges, while section three gives some detail of the trial. Olson seems to point out the ridiculous nature of the judge being judged with his inclusion of details about the controversy surrounding Mr. Charles Channcys. The court is persuaded of Grangerís guilt after an analysis of Levitical laws and various theologians. Section four relates not only the execution of Granger, but also the opinion of Bradford, and Olson, on these events. The various animals with which Granger had committed his acts were executed first, and then Granger himself and all were buried in the same grave. Bradford comments on the wastefulness of this punishment: "no use made of any part of them."
Olsonís goal is to manipulate the historical narrative into a relevant tragedy. Itís not entirely clear how his manipulation of the rhythms of Bradfordís text accomplishes this goal. While the simple act of refurbishing and republishing the material works toward this end, Olson does little else with the primary document to achieve a modern relevance. Olsonís words in line 14, "Rest, Tom, in your pit where they put you," offers some sympathy for the criminal which is not seen in Bradfordís account. But the reasons for this change of tone are unclear.
"There was a Youth whose Name was Thomas Granger" was written early in 1947 (Bollobas 82) and subsequently published in Western Review, a journal edited by Olsonís acquaintance Ray West, an English instructor at the University of Iowa (Clark 117). The poem was later published in The Distances (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1950) and then in Archaeologist of Morning (New York: Cape Goliard Press, 1970). One change has occurred in the history of the text. In Archaeologist of Morning, line 49, "A very sade spectakle it was; for first the mare", is indented several spaces. This later version seems authoritative. Though this book was published after his death, it was assembled by Olson, not by an editor. The change seems to complement Olsonís indentation of two other lines in the last section of the poem, and as such, seems more consistent with Olsonís aims in this section.
There was a Youth
Whose Name was Thomas Granger
From the beginning, SIN
and the reason, note, known from the start
says Mr. Bradford: As it is with waters when
their streames are stopped or damed up, wickednes
(Morton, Morton, Morton)
here by strict laws as in no more,
or so much, that I have known or heard of,
and ye same nerly looked unto
so, as it cannot rune in a comone road of liberty
as it would, and is inclined,
it searches every wher (everywhere)
and breaks out wher it getts vente, says he
Rest, Tom, in your pit where they put you
a great & large pitte digged of purposs for them
of Duxbery, servant, being aboute 16. or 17. years of age
his father & mother living at the time at Sityate
espetially drunkennes & unclainnes
incontinencie betweene persons unmaried
but some maried persons allso
And that which is worse
(things fearfull to name)
HAVE BROAK FORTH OFTENER THAN ONCE
IN THIS LAND
indicated for ye same) with
a mare, a cowe, tow goats, five sheep, 2. calves
and a turkey (Plymouth Plantation)
Now follows ye ministers answers
Mr Charles Channcys a reverend, godly, very larned man
who shortly thereafter, due to a difference aboute baptising
he holding it ought only to be by diping
that sprinkling was unlawful, removed him selfe
to the same Sityate, a minister to ye church ther
in this case proved, by reference to ye judicials of Moyses
& see: Luther, Calvin, Hen: Bulin:. Theo: Beza. Zanch:
what greevous sin in ye sight of God,
by ye instigation of burning lusts, set on fire of hell,
to procede to contactum & fricationem ad emissionem seminis,
& yt contra naturam, or to attempt ye grosse acts of
Mr Bradford: I forbear perticulers.
And accordingly he was cast by ye jury,
It being demanded of him
the youth confessed he had it of another
who had long used it in old England,
and they kept cattle together.
And after executed about ye 8. Of Septr, 1642.
A very sade spectakle it was; for first the mare,
and then ye cowe, and ye rest of ye lesser catle,
were kild before his face, according to ye law
and then he him selfe
and no use made of any part of them
Bollobas, Eniko. Charles Olson. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647. Samuel Eliot Morison, Ed.
New York: Random House, 1952.
Clark, Tom. Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poetís Life. New York: W. W. Norton &
Merrill, Thomas F. The Poetry of Charles Olson. New York: University of Delaware
Von Hallberg, Robert. Charles Olson: The Scholarís Act. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1978.