Oppen vs. the “World, World-“

Oppen’s unadorned writing style yields poetry in which absolutely every word is vital and in possession of great meaning. “World, World-” is a relatively short poem but I had to read it numerous times before I even began to grasp his message.

Oppen’s “World, World-” is a poem that I find especially interesting after learning more about his background. The lines, “Nothing seen/ From prominence/ Too much seen in the ditch.” have new depth now that I know he left behind his privileged upbringing. This poem is made compelling by Oppen’s unique perspective on society and the concise manner in which he communicates it.

“Those who will not look/ Tho they feel on their skins/ Are not pierced; / One cannot count them/ Tho they are present. ”

The sixties were such a transformative time for America and I read these lines as Oppen’s disapproval for those who are not fully aware of all that is going on around them. His valued concept of being “present” can perhaps be applied to the transformative political and social changes occurring in America in the sixties and Oppen’s belief that an increased level of cognizance is vital.” This poem seems to be a challenge to the status quo of Oppen’s time that was not truly engaging in the realities of the world. I’m fascinated by his dismissal of “Soul-searchings” as “Medical faddism and an attempt to escape” because I never considered soul- searching to have negative connotations. But Oppen makes it sound so self-indulgent. He asserts his idea that “to be here” is the only way to know oneself.  Similar themes resonate in the opening lines of Of Being Numerous, “There are things/We live among ‘and to see them/ Is to know ourselves.” With those powerful words Oppen is again stating how important it is to be present and aware of the “things we live among.”

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