Margaret Avison: Power, Knowledge and the Language of Poetry
by J.M. Kertzer
Margaret Avisons poetry is prompted and sustained by a sense of power to which the poems themselves give access. They dramatize her efforts to contact the sources of that power and to gain the knowledge it permits, a contact that is discouraged by the cynical frame of mind of modern man and so must be won through poetic effort, a knowledge that is inhibited by his misplaced faith in reason. This power is the fundamental energy of being, a vitality displayed by the natural world which her poems examine and celebrate; it is the energy of human apprehension and understanding, granted by the combined forces of reason and imagination, or the rational imagination; and it is the transforming energy of Christian faith. Recognition of, contact with and assent to these powers provide what Avison has called a truly inner knowing1: an accurate and profound perception of the world and oneself, of the flesh and the spirit, of the relation between nature, man and God. Power is knowledge, knowledge is power, and for the poet, both are sustained by language. The creative word which, at different points in her career, Avison expresses as the Greek logos, a magical spell or invocation, a prayer, Christ as The Word generates the power and conveys the wisdom that the poet seeks. Poetic language is itself a means of power and knowledge.
In the religious poems of The Dumbfounding (1966), the source of power is Christ and the transfiguring love and knowledge that He offers. Christ is the power and the glory, and in Avisons account of her religious conversion, it is the Jesus of resurrection power . . . sovereign, forgiving, forceful of life that she emphasizes.2 Christ is the Son of God and sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2), the source of illumination and strength to feeble pilgrims. He is, in various poems, an arrowing sunburst flooding us with . . . risen radiance, Christian brightness and sunward love. Apart from the recognition that we live in a fallen and muddled world, there is little sense of malevolent sin in The Dumbfounding. Man remains passive, blind, ignorant and hesitant, and he must seek salvation by forsaking all, by submitting himself without question to a power infinitely greater than himself:
The poems are prayers for enlightenment and, paradoxically, all the energy of their language is devoted to self-renunciation in an effort to touch home and draw near to the Christian sun:
Her desire to approach the source of radiance explains the attention given to apostles and evangelists, to those who saw and touched Christ: John, James, Saul who was blinded by the Light and transformed into Paul, and Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, who was flame-touched, to front / the new sky.
In the poems of Winter Sun (1960) and earlier, the source of power is harder to identify. Again, it is associated with the sun, but a listless sun that lingers still at a Muscovite level, barely heating a bleak, winter landscape. The winter of discontent is both physical and mental:
This psychological and spiritual wasteland owes much to T.S. Eliots early work, and Avisons world waits in hope or despair for the same vivifying power of the Spring, which will reanimate the world, the year and the self. The title, Winter Sun, suggests the opposing forces of snow and sun whose legends the poetry recounts; but their conflict appears in even the earliest poetry, where it is expressed through references to polar and tropical landscapes, to Russia (snow) and Italy (sun), to the confusion of seasons, and to Christmas as the time of birth in mid-winter:
The earlier, like the later Christian poems, seek to locate and contact the source of power, but find it more elusive because they lack the guidance of faith. The vivifying power is identified at various times with natural, supernatural and human forces. Avison presents man as regimented and imprisoned in cities, cut off from the natural world which is frightening because it is utterly alien, but attractive because it is so vital. Sealed within her house on a winter evening, the poet feels excluded from the reality that, once again, she wishes to touch: A pane, brick, lath, & wallpaper / divide me from these that I try to speak of. They are even beyond the grasp of human speech. Then as she watches a chestnut tree, it begins to have / its night, a night that belongs to and sustains it alone, because it cannot be shared by man.6 This dilemma recurs in The Local & the Lakefront7 where:
There is a fierce subhuman peace in nature, and when winter-bound people appeal to the sun, they are calling to a power which may terrify and overwhelm them, but which may awaken a corresponding human power in themselves:
Natural power is also presented as sexual, a vast fecundity that man, trapped in Sour unfructifying November, watches with mixed fear and longing. The fertility myths that inspired T.S. Eliot also appear in Avisons wastelands, occasionally explicit (Osiris appears in Prelude; Mars and Aurora couple in The Crowd; France Darte Scott was the fair May mother), but more often implicit:
Agnes Cleves once hoped to be redeemed by the simple penetrating force of love, a force which she now discovers only in the landscape around her:
Supernatural powers appear in the earlier poems when the forces of nature take on a fabulous character. These powers may be Christian, suggested usually by references to Christmas or Easter, or their magic may be pagan, as in the fertility myths above. Hansel and Gretel, Pandora, Puss n Boots, the Horse Head nebula, Rip Van Winkle, Pan and Peter Pan all appear in the poems as figures who have mastered a power that permits them to triumph over time and death. Hansel is the artist, a bloat phoenix fattened by the imagination and continually resurrected through his art (The Artist). Every man is a Rip Van Winkle who can awaken from the sleep of reason to an invisible music of the spirit (Mordent for a Melody). Several references to Egypt, especially carved Egyptian friezes, suggest mystic insights into the cosmos, man and nature, a secret knowledge that once granted magical power:
But man has forgotten the wisdom of the ancients. Through a pun, frieze also indicates the frozen state of the modern mind: today we model for the / frieze of night and thought.8 Similarly in Rigor Viris (the title is an other pun, sexual and mortuarial), the city resembles profiles of Egyptian smiles and a parade / Of all intolerables, in flowing frieze; but when Pandora opens the magic box, she releases powers that can decipher the clamouring mysteries of the urban scene. The spell seems to fail, however, in Stray Dog, near Ecully where coin-conducted legions of tourists another image of staring but unseeing modern man fail to follow the dog with the magical name Sesame. They cannot move through a Rouault hoop, comparable perhaps to Pandoras box, and so remain trapped within their limited landscape. The powers which Avisons poetry invokes do occasionally fail.
Natural and supernatural powers provide Avison with a means of measuring human power, because man shares some of the fierce peace of nature and some of the magic of the divine. In the domain of the human, however, the sun represents the flash of genius, the sunbright gaze of the visionary. She proclaims the geniuses, rebels, iconoclasts and artists whose brilliance has transformed perception, a lighting up of the terrain of our lives that does not dispel its mysteries by explaining them away, but signalizes, and compels, an advance in it by deepening human understanding and wonder (Voluptuaries and Others). She celebrates, in different ways, Archimedes, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Tycho Brahe, Andrea Mantegna, Archibald Lampman, not for their patient labours or, though many are scientists, not only for their rational powers, but for their spontaneous insights:
The power which these people share is the inrushing floodlight of imagination.10 It is the burst of pure art, the light shed by Miltons candle in From a Provincial, the golden contemplation in The Road.11 Avisons heroes are revolutionaries of consciousness who have modified human sensibility. Although she occasionally celebrates men of action as well the Vikings in The Iconoclasts, the astronauts in April 17-18, 1970 (Apollo XIII)12 action is secondary, and only possible because of prior mental daring. Christ is the ultimate hero in her poetry because the spiritual transformation He permits has changed man and history, this world and the next.
Like other poets who began writing in the 1930s, Margaret Avison calls for a revolution, and seeks the power to make it possible. Although she has a strong social awareness evident also in her translations of Hungarian poetry the revolution she desires always comes from within. She wishes to follow W.H. Audens example, to Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at / New styles of architecture, a change of heart.13 The rebellion must start in the mind and heart. This bias is evident in a review she wrote in 1944 of Dorothy Livesays Day and Night. In it, Avison distinguishes between Man as a social animal and human beings, and argues that Livesay often falsifies her work by writing a diagnosis of the former instead of poetry about the latter. The homeland of the poet, she said in another review, is a human environment, not a social doctrine14. The poet must investigate his own homeland in order to make it habitable:
Because the fault is internal, poetry must look to People, every one with a different world, from / Supernovae to amoeba in his soul (Apocalyptics). Because the fault lies in sin, not in social oppression, the revolution must be a spiritual one. In this sense, Avisons outlook has always been religious, and the power she seeks in her poetry has always been spiritual. Even in her early work, her concern is not with politics as such, but with political astronomy (the subtitle of Intra-Political) and with geometaphysics which require a cosmic, philosophical sense of social relations. Because she is concerned with the way historical facts fuse with spiritual reality, she appeals not to Manx but to the oeconomy of the clairvoyant.16 She seeks the insight found in that special range of vision that lies between microscopic and ghostly at the point of intersection of material and spiritual, of animal and angel:17
To call the early poetry religious is not merely to indulge in hindsight. Norman Endicott was quite right in his review of Winter Sun when he said that the transfiguring board of the world at the end of Intra-Political is not seen through the eyes of revealed religion.19 The poem, again like Eliots Waste Land, while it makes use of religious allusions, is not the work of an orthodox Christian or even, necessarily, of a believer. Nevertheless, it dramatizes a religious condition; it laments the difficulty of belief; it calls for a transformation whose basis is spiritual, not social or psychological, and whose power is sacred. For this reason, the revolutions in Avisons poetry frequently appear as resurrections: as a first annunciation for the spirit; as Dayspring in the Magnificat. Her poems search for new heaven and new hell. Rip Van Winkle, Atlantis, the phoenix and the butterfly are all figures that permit a purification of vision that will prompt a metamorphosis of the spirit:
The power for such a metamorphosis comes from within, and changes in the outer social and political worlds, or even in the natural landscape are signs of an inner inspiration that is religious, if not explicitly Christian. When vintage elms wither by moral accident in Grammarian on a Lakefront Park Bench, the land goes waste in response to moral conditions. When the huge bustling girth of the whole world turns sunward in Easter, the land is renewed in response to a spiritual power.
The knowledge like the power that poetry grants is spiritual in nature. It is a truly inner knowing because it is based on the optic heart, or in The Dumbfounding on Christian faith, and not on the brain. It is intuitive or imaginative knowledge. Much of Avisons poetry explores the nature of and the relation between different kinds of power and knowledge. Rational knowledge, for example, is abstract, orderly, geometrical, crafty, and the power it grants is tyrannical, destructive, even suicidal. It is strait thinking and calendared knowing, concerned only with the pickaxe fact. It is fundamentally materialistic, and confronts the spiritual by reducing it to the material terms of science:
Avisons poems form a critique of pure reason, and several (Geometaphysics, Dispersed Titles, Voluptuaries and Others) trace the history by which it has usurped human consciousness and displaced the imaginative wisdom of earlier times:
Avison counters reason with the poetic wisdom of the imagination, but it is important to note that she does not set the two faculties in simple opposition. Their relation is more complex. On one hand, she insists that poetry does not rely solely on, or appeal to, reason: poetic ideas are very different from the intellects abstracts, and neither can perform the others functions.22 Indeed, often poetry must actively subvert the expectations of reason if it is to promote the jail-break / And re-creation of the world called for in Snow.
On the other hand, poetry does not necessarily exclude reason. Avisons own poems call for a subtle play of intellect in their allusiveness, their conciseness, and their effort to convey the subtle and oblique awareness23 peculiar to poetry. This is the awareness that Archimedes gains when his genius lights up the terrain, or that Agnes Cleves seeks through her storytelling:
The poetic vision perceives, Wallace Stevens said, by musing the obscure,24 by illuminating the thoughtful, Muse-inspired, amusing and dark ways of the imagination. The very obscurity of poetry calls for an intellectual effort that enhances the knowledge and pleasure that must be won from it. The effort of understanding enhances understanding. Avison favoured difficult poets because to penetrate to the essential worth of many writers is a chore, and . . . the final discovery makes the labor itself a kind of pleasure.25 Such is the case with a poet like Dylan Thomas, whose work is a challenge to both reason and imagination:
The same is true of many of Avisons own poems. Imagination is powerful, then, not because it supplants reason, but because it uses reason for its own ends. The poets vision is intense and clear-sighted because All his faculties including reason are alert and fused in a single, supreme effort.27 The power of the imagination is the product of a disciplined mind. In her review of Dylan Thomas, Avison uses a lovely phrase to explain the mutual dependence of reason and imagination: she finds a poem meaningful and beautiful, proof of the miracle that can occur when an involuntary mind is also fastidious.28 The involuntary mind is the inspired imagination; the fastidiousness is the rational control of craft. The two must work together in concert and in opposition, to provide the complex awareness of poetry. When Avison writes Butterfly Bones; or Sonnet Against Sonnets, she indicates in her title, with its juxtaposition of fragile and tough, spontaneous and conventional, the interdependence of inspiration and intellect.
The knowledge that poetry grants surpasses reason but is not irrational. It is a fabulous power a Pandoras box, a magic spell only because it submits to the discipline of craft. When the poets faculties fuse in a single effort, the hawk-like imagination of Unbroken Lineage soars aloft, but fixes its piercing gaze on the ground beneath while thoughtfully Crafting for rats through the obscurest mews. Musing the obscure provides knowledge, not just of transcendent splendours, but of everyday things which it discovers to be just as wonderful. It surveys the real world through the absorbing vision that Avison, with Biblical and Romantic precedent, associates with childhood (A Child: Marginalia for an Epigraph, The Absorbed), a vision that teaches us to appreciate the fabulous quality of ordinary reality: Mews, meadows, steppes, bear still the fabled kings. Christs radiance is matched by His humility. Oak, elm or chestnut, insect or raindrop, a janitor working on a threshold, seeds in the earth, a portion of low roof swept by the / buttery leaves of a pear tree all are meaningful because they testify to the beauty and vitality of creation. Poetry must never lose contact with fact, though it requires more than the pickaxe of reason. Avisons refusal to lose her head in a poetic frenzy (he transport! / SNEEZES) explains why she is not an aesthete, despite her admiration for the transfiguring imagination. In The Fallen, Fallen World, she argues against those who retreat into abstraction Where meaning mocks itself in many echoes / Till it is meaningless, because she refuses to ignore reality and the demands of reason. She does not believe in art for arts sake because she stands for the responsibility of art: Poetry over against the world if such could exist, Id stay on the worlds side, she says in her letter in Origin,29 implying, however, that even in our anti-poetical world, such a choice is not necessary. The two are not at odds because it is the duty of art to illuminate the world, to make it woonderful, intelligible and habitable:
Margaret Avison is thoroughly traditional in her belief that poetry provides us with spiritual knowledge, even as in her technique she is thoroughly modern. Poetry is insight, an extension of experience to new proportions,30 and therefore poetic knowledge consists, not in arcane learning, but in the spirit with which ordinary facts are observed, entertained and welcomed, in short in the way the world is endowed with meaning and beauty. It is in this sense that Wordsworth, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, speaks of poetry as the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge. Simply to observe the world from this imaginative perspective is to judge it, to question its relation to man, and so to judge man, whose spiritual state is at the centre of all Avisons poetry. As A.J.M. Smith says of scenes in Winter Sun: The way things are seen and communicated is criticism (examination, interrogation, evaluation) as well as perception. The result is to transform perception into vision.31 Poetry offers the power to transform sight into vision, accident into art, and mans life into tragedy or divine comedy.
The power of poetry resides in its language. Everyday words are clumsy and imprecise, as Agnes Cleves finds when she seeks a word cognate with love; or they are impersonal and obscure when Tomes sag on the begrimed shelves / locking in light. Either jargon serves to mask feeling or exact sense; or the strict forms and pre-established terminology of science succeed in disciplining feelings and attitudes in order to promote, objectivity and practical action, and to allow us to approach the sore spots of our social life without wincing.32 But poetic words are splendid. They illuminate feeling and sense, broaden perspectives, and both expose and soothe the wounds in our lives. They come from Adams lexicon locked in the mind because they recapture the original urgency and delight they had when Adam first named Gods creation and invented language. They are living words, animated and playful in their cresting exuberance,33 the magical spells through which poets exercise their powers and compose their prayers. The language of poetry is rich yet precise. As Avison remarks in a review of A.M. Klein a poet who may have influenced her enthusiasm for language All poetry gives words multiple meaning: literal, associative, mimetic, musical, a variety whose effect is not to confuse but to discipline speech into clarity.34 Avison again uses the figure of the child, who has an innocent delight in language that has not yet succumbed to grammarian, teacher or scientist, to suggest the powerful clarity of poetic speech. One child discovers the full significance and resonance of a single word when:
The dual force of the word is confirmed playfully by Avisons pun on the word rooting. Finally, the language of poetry is powerful because it sustains an intimate communication between people, one that involves:
The contact is between heart and heart, as well as between minds. Not just ideas, but experience is shared.
One of the delights of Avisons poetry is the way it makes language exuberant. Her style ranges from the terse and understated, to the colloquial, to the eloquent, to the precious. It is distinguished by its puns and word play (freeze-frieze, eyes-ice, service-station crossroads, the poem Tennis is a word game); by its neologisms (seamurmurous, Uncommonweal, forwardfold backslidden, Eporphyrial); by its phrases hypenated into mouthfuls (rain-wrinkled, time-soiled, city-wise; Wind-snatched , pebble-rubber / mock-soccer-ball); by its delight in unusual and colourful words (snow-whinged, whanged, albumen, rhizomes, sun-meld, friable, frangible); by its playful punctuation and typography that mimic, mock and question what the words declare; by its Diction, imagery and form, nervous with the energy of paradox;35 by its tongue-twisting sounds and rhythms:
These are all means of animating language. They illustrate Avisons conviction that the poet must take ordinary words and charge them with vitality and meaning, because the power that poetry seeks must be generated by the poetry itself.
She uses another striking phrase to describe words used at full poetic power when she says of Pablo Neruda that his words are an incident in the mind.36 Words become incidents when they stimulate the mind to action, when they provoke an imaginative effort that confirms the power of the imagination, when they encourage a vision or a knowledge which they themselves bring into being. Their power to extend experience to new proportions can be illustrated in The Apex Animal.
The opening simile teases the imagination by providing terms so remote that it is a challenge to see their connection. The imaginative and intellectual effort required to link these terms will give the poem its force and its vision. The word thin-coloured yokes unrelated qualities. The Horse is compared to oranges and to the practise of shipping produce over vast distances. The oranges ripen in the dark. The precision of the description (three nights) hints at but fails to disclose a precise meaning. The casements in houses by the railroad provide a further, but blurred (shaking), perspective on the scene. The competing features of this extended simile then give rise to a series of contrasts, oxymorons, and paradoxes in the rest of the poem. The night contrasts the noon-day scene that follows. Street-level and parapet offer low and lofty perspectives. The phrase troubled only by clarity of weather is puzzling, because one would expect a lack of clarity to trouble the vision: there seem to be conflicting kinds of clarity and of vision at work in this poem. The phrase mortal memory paradoxically combines the time-bound with a power that transcends time though, it seems in this case, ineffectively. If memory is mortal and forgetful, it is ironic that any matter may safely rest in it.
All such contrasts support the opposition between fancy and experience, two modes of vision provided by the inner and the outer eye. Experience rules the world of administration, clerks, accounting, reason, business, the world of produce from the opening lines which serve here, as in Intra-Political, as an image of hectic, commercial, omnivorous modern life. It is a lustreless, calculating, mortal world illuminated for one strange hour by the eye of the imagination, which offers a clear vantage untroubled by the petty details that, at the end, bring the poem back to earth. Imagination is an ointment for the wounds of our lives. The shining, orange Horse, which offers the imaginative perspective and is obscured occasionally by a dim mental climate, seems to be a constellation, probably the Horse Head nebula, as Ernest Redekop suggests.37 Man seems impossibly distant from the cold gaze of these stars, as he is too in The Absorbed:
But the clerk, like Madelaine in Our Working Day may be Menaced or the narrator in Prelude, has his moment of vision. The opposition of the two faculties, gradually negotiated by figures of speech, is overcome in a moment of contact (touched his face) to which the hesitant tone cautiously makes its way through the long, sinuous sentence of the first stanza. This contact with the source of power recurs in Avisons poetry at the ominous centre, the node, the all-swallowing moment, the apex where we stab that one angle into the curve of space. In fact, the moment of contact and illumination, which suddenly sets our lives in a cosmic perspective, exists only within the poem. The Apex Animal never tells us what wonders the clerk sees, but it convinces us if it succeeds as a poem that a wonderful vision has been achieved, and is all the more wonderful for being unspoken and at odds with the matter-of-fact conclusion. The sense of wonder must be earned, made credible, by the power of poetry.
The conviction that poetry can convince us by endowing words with a special significance accounts for another of Avisons characteristic techniques. Several poems culminate in a single word which, through careful preparation of image and allusion, stands out with unexpected force, and brings the whole poem into perspective. It is suddenly focused through the lens of the final word. For example, Old . . . Young . . . balances and interweaves images of youth and age, natural and human worlds, inside and outside, and then concludes:
The last word, made striking by quotation marks and indentation, is an ordinary word made powerful. It emphasizes how the sunset illuminates and enchants the country scene, harmonizing its old and young features at a privileged moment of insight. It is a word rich in suggestion of decorating, enhancing, completing, fulfilling, and through these connotations it implies, not only that the scene is embellished briefly, but that it is enticed to disclose an inner beauty and harmony that usually are unrecognized. Further more, the word mahogany recalls earlier references to members of the orchard, candles and cellars to give the final word the added sense of furnishings in a house. But in this case the well-appointed home is the natural world, unified like the generations of a family and captured in one, rich vision. Lateral, associative and musical meanings combine to give the word its power.
Avisons fascination with the power that individual words can wield in a poem is also apparent in a revision she made of Natural/Unnatural, whose conclusion (published in Origin, 1962):
she changed to:
The poem is an attempt to face despair and the fear of corruption, disaster and death, expressed as an attempt to locate, in a bleak cityscape, the least whisper or glimmer of hope. The first version ends with an ambiguous refusal of despair or of hope. The dilemma dramatized through the poem is not clearly resolved, yet the abruptness of the conclusion suggests a continuing desperation, if not full despair. The second version, written after Avisons religious conversion and included in The Dumbfounding, alters the emphasis and brings the poem into a different perspective. The ending is still ambiguous, but because it is an ambiguity set in the context of faith, it is more affirmative than the first version. The terms of the poem refusal, fear, hope are re-assembled and shown to be inter-related: the refusal to submit to death does not exclude fear, but need not diminish hope. The conclusion now replies to a question asked earlier in the poem:
The final ambiguity reflects the position of the believer who must move through darkness to attain the light, who must face despair in order to confirm faith.
The technique of steering a poem toward one or more evocative words becomes prominent in the Christian poems of The Dumbfounding, which often taper into a single word or phrase whose sacred significance suddenly provides the desired contact with divine power. In A Child: Marginalia on an Epigraph, the whole world of childhood is gradually funnelled into one word:
Fullness of heart, of joy, of the radiance of longing and desire, of the rich spirit of childhood, as well as fullness of the holy spirit all are suggested by the heavily-laden final word. It brings into the focus the entire poem, with its intricately co-ordinated references to hunger, sustenance and emptiness, to kinds of appetite and kinds of food, to the Lords supper and the childs entry into the kingdom of heaven. We find the same technique in many of the religious poems:
In each case, the tentative quality of the lines conveys a tone of supplication, and the very simplicity of the terms suggests that language is approaching the ineffable, the point where vision is blinded and speech is dumbfounded.
At this point, a paradox arises: poetry is asked to use ordinary words in extraordinary ways in order to speak about what is ineffable. Avison insists that the poet relies on the power of words to direct and inform the mind, to communicate with others, and to deal imaginatively with the world of fact. Words are all that she has to work with. But her confidence in language is countered by a diffidence in mans spiritual strength. Her religious poems, as we have observed, use exuberant language to express a condition of helplessness; her very title, The Dumbfounding, suggests that poetry must venture into realms where even the eloquent poet falters and falls silent. The experience of despair and frailty that her poems attempt to overcome is dramatized verbally as an experience of speechlessness: How should I find speech / to you, the self-effacing . . .? Forsaking all means forsaking words, because the dark path leading to the Light advances through wordlessness:
Here, Avison follows the path of Dylan Thomas, who also found that vision and prayer are only possible after the purification of blindness and silence:
For Avison, the dumbfounding experience begins with Adams lexicon and the invention of language when words were first matched to things:
Things (The bird) come first, and words (the naming) follow to mimic reality, to make it comprehensible, and so to establish mans position in the midst of things. The relation between man and creation is sustained by language; hence a religiosity is implicit in his very use of words. Avison proceeds to illustrate this condition:
Here, mans relation to the artificial modern world the city always under construction is expressed by the word plastic; but the criss-cross . . . against / a side of city is congruent with another scene: the crucifixion. A religiosity is implied in the words that provides a standard to measure our fallen condition and tell us of our possible salvation. Thus Avison uses a theory of language or a theology of language as a metaphor for mans spiritual state. In later poems when she accepts Christ and her relation to creation is thereby disrupted, her sense of language is disrupted as well. She is dumbfounded:
Now she must learn to read a new testament, written in the new skys language. In Christ:
God, Christ, and more specifically divine power, are associated with language: the logos of St. John. Christ is The Voice that stilled the sea of Galilee, and the Bible is The word read by the living Word.41 Avisons later poetry turns often to the word of God. Several poems are built on Biblical quotations and echoes, while Ps. 19 is a poetic gloss of Psalm 19:9. The beginning of the nineteenth Psalm is itself a kind of gloss on Avisons poetry, showing how heaven utters in a paradoxically wordless language that conveys a knowledge of the power of the Lord:
Editions used: Winter Sun and Other Poems (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960), The Dumbfounding (New York: Norton, 1966).