top of page

A council among George Oppen

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Of Being Numerous, 12

‘In these explanations it is presumed that an experiencing

subject is one occasion of a sensitive reaction to an

actual world.'

the rain falls

that had not been falling

and it is the same world

. . .

They made small objects

Of wood and the bones of fish

And of stone. They talked,

Families talked.

They gathered in council

And spoke, carrying objects.

They were credulous,

Their things shone in the forest.

They were patient

With the world.

This will never return, never,

Unless having reached their limits

They will begin over, that is,

Over and over


The cover of the book George Oppen Collected Poems. The image is of the poet.

I still struggle for words when it comes to Oppen. Primitivist. Communalist. Agrarian. Tinkerer? I bet he was. He's a symbolist, a touch imagistic, too.

He saw into Whitman; saw through Whitman to something less here but yet close by. Forgotten? Dropped in the grass, maybe. A rusting tool; a bleached skull with some red hair still attached.

Oppen saw through history to something pan-human, something not wed to the opening of a continent or the birth of a nation. But he was inspired by freshness and renewal and their tenuous dance with what is ancient.

It is the second half of the above poem that sets my world afire. The word "council" holds me... A council is surely not a senate; it is tenuous, situational. Organic. Of necessity and conducted when needed, when seasons or crises dictate. These people described here, and Oppen, I believe, are of the moment in which they find themselves.

Don't we all wish that what we make, what we might leave behind, could "[shine] in the forest"? I admit I do. But in this poem it is almost as if they are looking back at what they made as they leave it. They have broken camp and are heading on. "This will never return, never," and yet they—we—always look back.

I hope we are given the chance to "begin over" again.


Support poetry and poets: buy some George Oppen or another poet you love today.


bottom of page