If one were to read through A.R. Ammons' poems, in chronological order, they would see a clear progression of tone and theme; his subject matter, as well as they voice he uses to portray it, goes through definite transformation as he becomes a more experienced poet and, perhaps most importantly, as he himself ages. Where the young Ammons writes scores of poems dedicated solely to conveying the beauty of the natural world, full of strong imagery and unique landscapes, the older seemingly wiser Ammons is more introspective, making observations about his own life, and how his personal situation is emblematic of society as a whole. Bonnie Costello, in her essay Ammons: Pilgrim, Sage, Ordinary Man, introduces and defines those three titular characters, or more exactly, personalities, as exhibited by Ammons in his work. Costello discusses these representations of the author in terms of subject matter, but one can also gain insight into Ammons by examining the way he treats the topic of environment in each of these stages; by examining the importance of surrounding as represented by Ammons during each of these phases, one gains a better understanding of the life experience and viewpoint of the author.
[...] The pilgrim is seemingly in awe of the natural world, lost within it as he begins to know himself. The sage searches for his own place within his environment, is inspired by his surroundings and seeks to stay as free as he has been, where the ordinary man is just that; one who has experienced these feelings, who has been lost within something greater than himself and who has, within the text, come to terms with the position this leaves him in. [...]
[...] For example: “since SS's enough money hope) to live / from now on in elegance and simplicity” (Garbage 13) this gives us an absolutely human view of the aging author, portraying him in a nearly undignified light. Costello notes, revelation of pattern dominates here over the articulation of self. Problems of identity fall away and the self become a node of consciousness through which the shape of the world reveals itself” (139). While Ammons the sage did make several references to technology (in City Limits,” for example, Selected Works it is in this final phase that he begins to discuss the impact of this modernity on the natural world, and the hallmarks of his former self, that defined his earlier works. [...]
[...] For example, the Wind My Rescue describes this: I set it my task To gather the stones of the earth Into one place The water modeled sand molded stones from The water images Of riverbeds in drought From the boundaries of the mind (Selected Poems We see that Ammons likens water-weathered stones to objects of memory; in doing so, he is showing his readers how he observes nature, what internal focus inspires these comparisons. Costello notes, “Nature is the scene of the pilgrim's search, but it is not the object of that search” (132). [...]
[...] Ammons seems to especially grapple with the concept of accepting one's place in life, of recognizing the need to choose and live a single path. He recognizes that “[t]aking root in windy sand / is not an easy / way / to go about / finding a place to stay” (Selected Poems 51). It is essentially this recognition that dominates this phase, as we watch Ammons coming to terms with his impending age. At a certain point, this act of self-reference begins to include reflection on the poems themselves; in order to take this view, we must assume that the narrator is indeed an intended face of Ammons himself (though, if we don't, these proclamations about poetry and methodology are quite telling regardless). [...]
[...] Ammons titles this work “Garbage” and, in the second section of the poem, defines it thusly: garbage has to be the poem of our time because garbage is spiritual, believable enough to get our attention, getting in the way, piling up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and creamy white; (Garbage 18) Here we see that garbage, the physical manifestation of human waste, is Ammons' focus; he is writing about the current environment as he sees it, one that has been ignored in favor of expansion, and one whose beauty is not as apparent as the impact of human life upon it. [...]
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