Some San Francisco Poems: Sections 1-4

By George Oppen 1908–1984 George Oppen
1

Moving over the hills, crossing the irrigation
canals perfect and profuse in the mountains the
streams of women and men walking under the high-
tension wires over the brown hills

                  in the multiple world of the flys
multiple eye the songs they go to hear on
this occasion are no ones own

Needles eye       needle eye       but in the ravine
again and again on the massive spike the song
clangs

as the tremendous volume of the music takes
over obscured by their long hair they seem
to be mourning


2

A MORALITY PLAY: PREFACE

Lying full length
On the bed in the white room

Turns her eyes to me

Again,

Naked . .

Never to forget her naked eyes

Beautiful and brave
Her naked eyes

Turn inward

Feminine light

The unimagined
Feminine light

Feminine ardor

Pierced and touched

Tho all say
Huddled among each other

‘Love’

The play begins with the world

A city street
Leads to the bay

Tamalpais in cloud

Mist over farmlands

Local knowledge
In the heavy hills

The great loose waves move landward
Heavysided in the wind

Grass and trees bent
Along the length of coast in the continual wind

The ocean pounds in her mind
Not the harbor leading inward
To the back bay and the slow river
Recalling flimsy Western ranches
The beautiful hills shine outward

Sunrise           the raw fierce fire
Coming up past the sharp edge

And the hoof marks on the mountain

Shines in the white room

Provincial city
Not alien enough

To naked eyes

This city died young

You too will be shown this

You will see the young couples

Leaving again in rags


3

So with artists.    How pleasurable
to imagine that, if only they gave
up their art, the children would be
healed,       would live.

                                 Irving Younger in The Nation

‘AND THEIR WINTER AND NIGHT IN DISGUISE’

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


4

ANNIVERSARY POEM

                    ‘the picturesque
common lot’ the unwarranted light

Where everyone has been

The very ground of the path
And the litter grow ancient

A shovel’s scratched edge
So like any other man’s

We are troubled by incredulity
We are troubled by scratched things

Becoming familiar
Becoming extreme

Let grief
Be
So it be ours

Nor hide one’s eyes
As tides drop along the beaches in the thin wash of
                   breakers

And so desert each other

—lest there be nothing
 
                  The Indian girl walking across the desert, the
sunfish under the boat

How shall we say how this happened, these stories, our
                   stories

Scope, mere size, a kind of redemption

Exposed still and jagged on the San Francisco hills

Time and depth before us, paradise of the real, we
                  know what it is

To find now depth, not time, since we cannot, but depth

To come out safe,        to end well

We have begun to say good bye
To each other
And cannot say it

George Oppen, “Some San Francisco Poems” 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)

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

Poet George Oppen 1908–1984

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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

 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

Poem Categorization

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

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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.