Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Benjamin Friedlander

Second Committee Member

Carla Billitteri

Third Committee Member

Steve Evans


The writings of the American poet, Charles Olson (1910-1970), have received extensive critical discussion in the part four decades, particularly with regard to Olson's interest in the investigation of historical and phenomenological meanings bound up in geographic location and terrestrial environment. A major feature of this aspect of Olson's writing is its consistent register of attention to geological objects and contemporary earth science. However, because this area of his writings, which first comes to particular prominence in his poetry of the early 1960s, is pursued in parallel and in intersection with other thematic elements-mythology, most of all-that are often more explicit or dominant, there has developed in Olson criticism a strong tendency to approach the geological in Olson as a secondary area whose role is chiefly to sublimely illustrate or metaphorically exemplify these other, ostensibly "fundamental" themes. This study seeks to re-consider the role of the geological in Olson's writing. Two methodological components are necessary to its procedure. First, to expand our understanding of just what we might understand as his geologically oriented poems we must include not only those instances where Olson incorporates or is informed by texts from the geological science, but also all those poems which attend to the presence of physical objects produced by, subject to, reminiscent of, or associable with geological processes. This larger definition of what constitutes the geological in Olson therefore is inclusive of a wide range of physical objects that appear in Olson's poems, from tiny rocks to the planet as a whole, as well as a large number of poems that are usually read in relation to other, more explicit thematic elements, such as those that deal with earth as a mythological entity, or those poems focused on views of landscape. Second, this thesis proceeds by moving through groupings of geologically oriented poems focused on geological objects of a particular scale. Thus its early discussions attend to poems concerned with rocks and landforms. Such objects are fully visible and encounterable on the human scale, both as components of the landscape and physical environment, but also as phenomenological entities that exhibit multiple appearances and serve as nodes around which experience coalesces. In the middle of this study we will progress into mid-range objects, from landscapes to continental land masses. It is with these objects that we find the greatest, though not the only, intersection of geological and mythological thematic. Investigation of Olson's uses of his geological and mythological sources alike will show that his tendency was to modify his terrestrial mythologies in such as a way as would emphasize their geological meaning. Lastly, we will see that Olson's working-through of the contemporary geological theory of continental drift became one means, for him, of forming a self-determined imago mundi, and image of the Earth whereby it, as the largest geological object, becomes not incomprehensible and sublime, but familiar and experienceable.