The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A spare, free-verse poem, George Oppen’s “The Translucent Mechanics” comprises twenty-nine lines, four of which contain only a single word. The title invites readers to experience the poet’s vision into the tentativeness and transparency of things, revealing them as organic mechanisms, ever in flux.

The poem is written in the third person, as the poet takes on a persona that views things from shifting perspectives. First, he assumes the point of view of the wind, moving through “the clever city”—specifically, the port of San Francisco—penetrating its “hinges,” or workings, to discover its “secrets of motion”—that is, its life.

“Flaws” are discovered, as well as “fear,” but so is commerce with vital forces. A “message” is “fetchedout of the sea again,” the sea indicating the primordal matrix of life. “Angel” and “powers,” or spiritual voices, now declare the dialectic of “‘things and the self.’” “Prosody” that “sings/ In the stones” entrusts to “a poetry of statement” a “living mind.” Objects in poetry inhabit both human language, including the poem itself, and the physical, material world—both of which are themselves objects.

The “living mind/ ‘and that one’s own,’” the individual synthesizing imagination, willing to see things “at close quarters,” paradoxically attains the transcendent view of “archangel.” Oppen has called this way of seeing existence as one “the imagist intensity of vision”—that is, perception that penetrates the complex interrelationship between language, thought, and things. It perceives the correspondent, dynamic structures of self and universe. Without this unifying vision, “earth crumbles”; the experience of reality deteriorates.