Having touted George Oppen in my previous entry, I realized I’d never posted any of his poetry and decided to remedy the omission. Here’s the last poem in his great book Of Being Numerous (I presume the fifth line refers to Swan’s Island, Maine; the poem was originally published in Poetry, December 1967):


Astrolabes and lexicons
Once in the great houses—

A poor lobsterman

Met by chance
On Swan’s Island

Where he was born
We saw the old farmhouse

Propped and leaning on its hilltop
On that island
Where the ferry runs

A poor lobsterman

His teeth were bad

He drove us over that island
In an old car

A well-spoken man

Hardly real
As he knew in those rough fields

Lobster pots and their gear
Smelling of salt

The rocks outlived the classicists,
The rocks and the lobstermen’s huts

And the sights of the island
The ledges in the rough sea seen from the road

And the harbor
And the post office

Difficult to know what one means
—to be serious and to know what one means—

An island
Has a public quality

His wife in the front seat

In a soft dress
Such as poor women wear

She took it that we came—
I don’t know how to say, she said—

Not for anything we did, she said,
Mildly, ‘from God’. She said

What I like more than anything
Is to visit other islands…


  1. I was listening to a podcast called Close Readings ( and they were discussing this poem, which, when I googled it, steered me to this post! Maybe Google just knows I’m a the Hat all the time…

  2. Thanks very much for visiting this poor neglected post and giving me a chance to reread the poem, fix its line breaks, and update the links (I even got to add one for the Poetry issue, since they’ve kindly put all their back issues online)! Off to listen to the podcast now…

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