Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although Oppen worked as an organizer for the U.S. Communist Party for a number of years, he wrote no verse during that time—nor are his poems overtly political. Nevertheless, his poetry is radical in its focus on the fundamentals of thought, matter, and existence.

“The Translucent Mechanics” articulates the universe of quantum mechanics, which is located somewhere between the sensory mechanism of the observer and the physical properties of the object observed. Each observer, as exemplified by the poet3, creates his or her own world.

Many of Oppen’s poems, including this one, explore, according to Galassi, “the nature of the poet’s work and his roleas a user of language.” Language is one way in which human beings structure their world. The “mechanics” of language are transparent, some would argue, as its forms may reflect its effects; syntax is a system of language that indicates how the arrangement of words in a sentence, or sentence structure, conveys meaning. It is theorized, moreover, that the patterns characteristic of language are themselves products of the structure or mechanics of the human mind.

Oppen’s poems, as crystallizations of language, betray a discursive, dialectical intellect. Critic Irwin Ehrenpreis notes in Oppen’s work “the effort of the mind to reach clarity of vision by turning always upon itself, traveling back and forth between things and words, reconsidering and correcting earlier impressions or ponderings.”

Oppen’s guide through this odyssey would appear to be a relentlessly probing mind. It penetrates to the organic structure of things, reflecting and readjusting its own image in the process. Oppen has said, “I was thinking about a justification of human life, eventually, in what I call the life of the mind.” For the poet, all things are analogues of the mind—systems of meaning animated by dynamic structures that radiate in and through them. Oppen uses poetry, as it illuminates these structures, to reveal the mind.