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During a period in the early sixties that coincides with the composition of his sequence poem “A Narrative” (1963),1 George Oppen was immersed in the poetry of William Bronk. Oppen, a member of the Objectivist circle, had encountered Bronk’s poetry in the pages of Cid Corman’s magazine Origin and had initiated a correspondence with Bronk, probably in June 1962.2 It was Oppen, in fact, who arranged for the publication of Bronk’s volume The World, the Worldless (still his best-known single collection of poems), and in 1963 Oppen was involved in the editing of this book. The collection was jointly published in 1964 by New Directions and the San Francisco Review, which was edited by Oppen’s sister, June Oppen Degnan. As his correspondence during the period indicates, Oppen was profoundly influenced but also deeply troubled by Bronk’s work and by the skeptical thrust of Bronk’s thought. A Marxist who had for many years been a member of the Communist Party before leaving politics and returning to poetry,3 Oppen was critical of what he regarded as Bronk’s solipsism, but at the same time he resonated with Bronk’s vision and to some extent made use of Bronk to distance himself from the Objectivist philosophy of Louis Zukofsky.4 All of this emerges in or behind the lines of “A Narrative” itself. In section 8 of the poem, Oppen writes: But at night the park She said, is horrible. And Bronk said Perhaps the world Is horror. She did not understand. He meant Oppen, Bronk, and the Story behind “A Narrative” chapter one oppen, bronk, and the story behind “a narr ative” 12 The waves or pellets Are thrown from the process Of the suns and like radar Bounce where they strike. The eye It happens Registers But it is dark. It is the nature Of the world: It is as dark as radar. (153–54) The conversation memorialized in section 8 of “A Narrative” seems to have occurred in late 1962 or early 1963, during Oppen’s first visit to Bronk’s home in Hudson Falls, New York.5 The reader of Bronk can actually hear Bronk’s voice, his characteristic turns of phrase, in Oppen’s cadences. The absence of quotation marks in the passage, typical of Oppen ’s technique of layering different and sometimes disparate voices and texts in a montage of his own, heightens this effect. (Oppen was a dialogical poet whereas Bronk was almost entirely a monological one.) If to the reader of Bronk the lines “Perhaps the world / Is horror” and “But it is dark” have a Bronkian weight, this is because words such as “world” and “dark” function as leitmotifs in Bronk’s poetry. In “The World,” for example, a four-line poem from Finding Losses (1976), Bronk writes: I thought that you were an anchor in the drift of the world; but no: there isn’t an anchor anywhere. There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world. Oh no. I thought you were. Oh no. The drift of the world.6 And in “About Dynamism, Desire and Various Fictions,” one of the sonnets from To Praise the Music (1972), he writes: “Also the Golden Age was a dark time / if there was one. I think it is now and was not / ever. It is dark now as it always was” (144). The lines “It is the nature / Of the world” toward the end of section 8 of “A Narrative” have a Lucretian flavor, and a connection can be drawn in this context not only between Oppen and Bronk but also between them both and Lucretius. Moreover, in Oppen’s collected poems “A Narrative” can be found only a few pages before “Of Being Numerous,” his masterpiece and the greatest of his sequence poems, and I would suggest that oppen, bronk, and the story behind “a narr ative” 13 there is a connection—marked by their shared Lucretian overtones— between section 8 of “A Narrative” and the opening section of “Of Being Numerous.” In the latter (from his 1968 collection Of Being Numerous), Oppen writes: “Of this was told / A tale of our wickedness. / It is not our wickedness” (163). One immediately wants to add the lines from “A Narrative ”: “It is the nature / Of the world.” The echo of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura serves to sum up a view of the world (broadly speaking existentialist) that puts the Judeo-Christian...


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