A council among George Oppen
Updated: Mar 3
Of Being Numerous, 12
‘In these explanations it is presumed that an experiencing
subject is one occasion of a sensitive reaction to an
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,
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
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.
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