from Of Being Numerous

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen

‘Whether, as the intensity of seeing increases, one’s distance from Them, the people, does not also increase’   
I know, of course I know, I can enter no other place

Yet I am one of those who from nothing but man’s way of thought and one of his dialects and what has happened to me
Have made poetry

To dream of that beach
For the sake of an instant in the eyes,

The absolute singular

The unearthly bonds   
Of the singular

Which is the bright light of shipwreck


Strange that the youngest people I know   
Live in the oldest buildings

Scattered about the city   
In the dark rooms
Of the past—and the immigrants,

The black   
Rectangular buildings   
Of the immigrants.

They are the children of the middle class.   

‘The pure products of America—’

The ancient buildings   
Jostle each other

In the half-forgotten, that ponderous business.   
This Chinese Wall.


They carry nativeness   
To a conclusion   
In suicide.

We want to defend   
And do not know how.

Stupid to say merely
That poets should not lead their lives   
Among poets,

They have lost the metaphysical sense   
Of the future, they feel themselves   
The end of a chain

Of lives, single lives   
And we know that lives   
Are single

And cannot defend   
The metaphysic   
On which rest

The boundaries   
Of our distances.   
We want to say

‘Common sense’
And cannot. We stand on

That denial
Of death that paved the cities,   
Paved the cities

For generation and the pavement

Is filthy as the corridors   
Of the police.

How shall one know a generation, a new generation?   
Not by the dew on them! Where the earth is most torn   
And the wounds untended and the voices confused,   
There is the head of the moving column

Who if they cannot find   
Their generation
Wither in the infirmaries

And the supply depots, supplying   
Irrelevant objects.
Street lamps shine on the parked cars   
Steadily in the clear night

It is true the great mineral silence   
Vibrates, hums, a process   
Completing itself

In which the windshield wipers   
Of the cars are visible.

The power of the mind, the
Power and weight   
Of the mind which
Is not enough, it is nothing
And does nothing

Against the natural world,
Behemoth, white whale, beast   
They will say and less than beast,   
The fatal rock

Which is the world—

O if the streets
Seem bright enough,
Fold within fold   
Of residence ...

Or see thru water
Clearly the pebbles
Of the beach
Thru the water, flowing   
From the ripple, clear   
As ever they have been


My daughter, my daughter, what can I say   
Of living?

I cannot judge it.

We seem caught
In reality together my lovely   

I have a daughter   
But no child

And it was not precisely   
Happiness we promised   

We say happiness, happiness and are not   

Tho the house on the low land   
Of the city

Catches the dawn light

I can tell myself, and I tell myself   
Only what we all believe   

And in the sudden vacuum   
Of time ...

... is it not
In fear the roots grip

And beget

The baffling hierarchies   
Of father and child

As of leaves on their high   
Thin twigs to shield us

From time, from open   

George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous” (#9, #25, #26, #29) from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1968 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

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 George  Oppen


George Oppen, a prominent American poet, was one of the chief exponents of Objectivism, a school of poetry that emphasized simplicity and clarity over formal structure and rhyme. Born in 1908 to a wealth family and expelled from a high school military academy, Oppen and his wife Mary travelled across the country, finding work wherever they could, until he received a small inheritance at 21. With these funds, the couple moved to . . .

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SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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