Image of the Engine

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen
1

Likely as not a ruined head gasket
Spitting at every power stroke, if not a crank shaft
Bearing knocking at the roots of the thing like a pile-driver:   
A machine involved with itself, a concentrated
Hot lump of a machine
Geared in the loose mechanics of the world with the valves jumping
And the heavy frenzy of the pistons. When the thing stops,   
Is stopped, with the last slow cough
In the manifold, the flywheel blundering
Against compression, stopping, finally
Stopped, compression leaking
From the idle cylinders will one imagine
Then because he can imagine
That squeezed from the cooling steel
There hovers in that moment, wraith-like and like a plume of steam, an aftermath,
A still and quiet angel of knowledge and of comprehension.


2

Endlessly, endlessly,
The definition of mortality

The image of the engine

That stops.
We cannot live on that.
I know that no one would live out
Thirty years, fifty years if the world were ending   
With his life.
The machine stares out,
Stares out
With all its eyes

Thru the glass
With the ripple in it, past the sill
Which is dusty—If there is someone
In the garden!
Outside, and so beautiful.


3

What ends
Is that.
          Even companionship   
Ending.

‘I want to ask if you remember
When we were happy! As tho all travels

Ended untold, all embarkations   
Foundered.


4

On that water
Grey with morning
The gull will fold its wings   
And sit. And with its two eyes   
There as much as anything
Can watch a ship and all its hallways
And all companions sink.


5

Also he has set the world
In their hearts. From lumps, chunks,

We are locked out: like children, seeking love
At last among each other. With their first full strength   
The young go search for it,

Native in the native air.
But even the beautiful bony children
Who arise in the morning have left behind   
Them worn and squalid toys in the trash

Which is a grimy death of love. The lost
Glitter of the stores!   
The streets of stores!
Crossed by the streets of stores
And every crevice of the city leaking
Rubble: concrete, conduit, pipe, a crumbling
Rubble of our roots

                            But they will find
In flood, storm, ultimate mishap:   
Earth, water, the tremendous
Surface, the heart thundering
Absolute desire.

George Oppen, “Image of the Engine” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1975 by George Oppen. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: New Collected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)

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Poet George Oppen 1908–1984

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Social Commentaries, Class, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 George  Oppen

Biography

"George Oppen," wrote Michael Adams in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, "had one of the most unusual careers of any American poet." Oppen was one of the chief exponents of Objectivism, a school of poetry that emphasized simplicity and clarity over formal structure and rhyme. He established the movement with William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukosfky, and other poets in the early 1930s. In 1932 Oppen helped found the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Social Commentaries, Class, Cities & Urban Life

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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