Populist

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen
I dreamed myself of their people, I am of their people,   
I thought they watched me that I watched them   
that they

watched the sun and the clouds for the cities   
are no longer mine    image    images

of existence    (or song

of myself?)    and the roads for the light   
in the rear-view mirror is not   
death but the light

of other lives tho if I stumble on a rock I speak   
of rock if I am to say    anything      anything   
if I am to tell of myself    splendor
of the roads    secrecy

of paths for a word like a glass

sphere encloses   
the word opening   
and opening

myself and I am sick   

for a moment

with fear let the magic
infants speak we who have brought steel

and stone again   
and again

into the cities in that word blind

word must speak   
and speak the magic

infants’ speech driving   
northward the populist
north slowly in the sunrise the lapping

of shallow   
waters tongues

of the inlets glisten
like fur in the low tides all that

childhood envied the sounds   

of the ocean

over the flatlands poems piers foolhardy

structures and the lives the ingenious   
lives the winds

squall from the grazing   
ranches’ wandering

fences young workmen’s

loneliness on the structures has touched   
and touched the heavy tools    tools   
in our hands in the clamorous

country birth-
light savage

light of the landscape magic

page the magic   
infants speak

George Oppen, “Populist” 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)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet George Oppen 1908–1984

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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 . . .

Continue reading this biography

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.