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veritas sequitur . . .

August 1, 2009


[Jacket 37] Let us consider the title poem of This in Which, “Psalm,” which communicates a sense of astonishment, awe, and perhaps a gratitude that Heidegger shares:

Psalm
Veritas sequitur . . .

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.
(NCP 99)

Astonishment is not a word that comes up in Oppen’s poetry, but the meaning of this word pervades it (cf. Nicholls 68-69). Oppen could easily have encountered it in Heidegger’s book What Is Philosophy, which Oppen read by 1963 (Nicholls 194-95), in which philosophy is conceived of as follows. “In astonishment we restrain ourselves (être en arrêt). We step back, as it were, from being, from the fact that it is as it is and not otherwise. And astonishment is not used up in this retreating from the Being of being, but, as this retreating and self-restraining, it is at the same time forcibly drawn to and, as it were, held fast by that from which it retreats. Thus astonishment is [a] disposition in which and for which the Being of being unfolds” (85).

What has to be understood is that the way in which Heidegger philosophized, the way in which he did philosophy, is not unlike the way in which Oppen did poetry. Looking back on his own method, Oppen comments in that 1969 interview, “I set myself again and again . . . just to record the fact, to saying that I enjoy life very much and defining my feeling by the word ‘curious’ or, as at the end of [the poem] ‘The Narrative’ [from This In Which], ‘joy’, joy in the fact that one confronts a thing so large, that one is a part of it. The sense of awe, I suppose [… ]” (read)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2009 1:09 pm

    “That they are there!” – still overwhelmed by this great poem, i can only say that i couldn’t take any photo if it were not spontaneously born out of this feeling of wonder, of awe.

    and thank you.

  2. August 1, 2009 1:18 pm

    Well, obviously needing a photo of a deer for this post, it just so happened that i knew you had one on your blog. so i’m glad you don’t mind my linking to it, and that you like the poem too–Oppen was truly one of the great American poets.

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