Five Poems about Poetry

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen
1

                               THE GESTURE

The question is: how does one hold an apple
Who likes apples

And how does one handle
Filth? The question is

How does one hold something
In the mind which he intends

To grasp and how does the salesman
Hold a bauble he intends

To sell? The question is
When will there not be a hundred

Poets who mistake that gesture
For a style.


2

                           THE LITTLE HOLE

The little hole in the eye
Williams called it, the little hole

Has exposed us naked
To the world

And will not close.

Blankly the world
Looks in

And we compose
Colors

And the sense

Of home
And there are those

In it so violent
And so alone

They cannot rest.


3

                                  THAT LAND

Sing like a bird at the open
Sky, but no bird
Is a man—

Like the grip
Of the Roman hand
On his shoulder, the certainties

Of place
And of time

Held him, I think
With the pain and the casual horror
Of the iron and may have left
No hope of doubt

Whereas we have won doubt
From the iron itself

And hope in death. So that
If a man lived forever he would outlive
Hope. I imagine open sky

Over Gethsemane,
Surely it was this sky.


4

                                   PAROUSIA

Impossible to doubt the world: it can be seen
And because it is irrevocable

It cannot be understood, and I believe that fact is lethal

And man may find his catastrophe,
His Millennium of obsession.

                                            air moving,
a stone on a stone,
something balanced momentarily, in time might the lion

Lie down in the forest, less fierce
And solitary

Than the world, the walls
Of whose future may stand forever.


5

                               FROM VIRGIL

I, says the buzzard,
I—

Mind

Has evolved
Too long

If ‘life is a search
For advantage.’

‘At whose behest

Does the mind think?’ Art
Also is not good

For us
Unless like the fool

Persisting
In his folly

It may rescue us
As only the true

Might rescue us, gathered
In the smallest corners

Of man’s triumph. Parve puer . . . ‘Begin,

O small boy,
To be born;

On whom his parents have not smiled

No god thinks worthy of his table,
No goddess of her bed’

George Oppen, “Five Poems about Poetry” from New Collected Poems. Copyright © 1972 by George Oppen.  Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: New Collected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2008)

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Poet George Oppen 1908–1984

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Ars Poetica

 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 Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Ars Poetica

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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