‘And Their Winter and Night in Disguise’

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen
The sea and a crescent strip of beach
Show between the service station and a deserted shack

A creek drains thru the beach
Forming a ditch
There is a discarded super-market cart in the ditch   
That beach is the edge of a nation

There is something like shouting along the highway   
A California shouting
On the long fast highway over the California mountains

Point Pedro   
Its distant life

It is impossible the world should be either good or bad   
If its colors are beautiful or if they are not beautiful   
If parts of it taste good or if no parts of it taste good   
It is as remarkable in one case as the other
                                                                   As against this

We have suffered fear, we know something of fear   
And of humiliation mounting to horror

The world above the edge of the foxhole belongs to the flying bullets, leaden superbeings
For the men grovelling in the foxhole danger, danger in being drawn to them

These little dumps
The poem is about them

Our hearts are twisted   
In dead men’s pride

Dead men crowd us   
Lean over us

In the emplacements

The skull spins   
Empty of subject

The hollow ego

Flinching from the war’s huge air

Tho we are delivery boys and bartenders   

We will choke on each other

Minds may crack

But not for what is discovered

Unless that everyone knew   
And kept silent

Our minds are split
To seek the danger out

From among the miserable soldiers

George Oppen, “‘And Their Winter and Night in Disguise’” 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

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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 George  Oppen


"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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SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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