George Oppen

George Oppen (April 24, 1908July 7, 1984) was an American poet, best known as one of the members of the Objectivist group of poets. He abandoned poetry in the 1930s for political activism, and later moved to Mexico to avoid the attentions of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He returned to poetry — and to the United States — in 1958, and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1969.


  • They have lost the metaphysical sense
    Of the future, they feel themselves
    The end of a chain
    Of lives, single lives
    And we know that lives
    Are single
    And cannot defend
    The metaphysic
    On which rest
    The boundaries
    Of our distances.
    • from "Of Being Numerous" #26, 1968; New Collected Poems, New Directions, 2002, ISBN 0-811-21488-5
  • 'O city ladies'
    Your coats wrapped,
    Your hips a possession
    Your shoes arched
    Your walk is sharp
    Your breasts
         Pertain to lingerie
    • from "Discrete Series", 1934; New Collected Poems, New Directions, 2002, ISBN 0-811-21488-5
  • And we saw the seed,
    The minuscule Sequoia seed
    In the museum by the tremendous slab
    Of the tree. And imagined the seed
    In soil and the growth quickened
    So that we saw the seed reach out, forcing
    Earth thru itself into bark, wood, the green
    Needles of a redwood until the tree
    Stood in the room without soil—
    How much of the earth's
    Crust has lived
    The seed’s violence!
    The shock is metaphysical.
  • The steel worker on the girder
    Learned not to look down, and does his work
    And there are words we have learned
    Not to look at,
    Not to look for substance
    Below them. But we are on the verge
    Of vertigo.
    • "The Building of the Skyscraper" st. 1, 1965; Collected Poems of George Oppen", New Directions, 1976, ISBN 0-811-20615-7
  • things explain each other,
    Not themselves.
    • This in Which (1965), "A Narrative", 3

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