Four Back Translations of George Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous”
There are things, items, objects,
among which we live, and to see them
We know them
A unique case,
A series without limit,
The sorrowful marvels;
From what has been Told
There is a story of our wickedness,
Which is not about our wickedness
‘Do you remember a long time ago, we went to the town, and we sat in the
window that was destroyed, and we tried to imagine being part of those times –
It is dead, and isn’t it dead, and you can’t imagine either life or death; the world
speaks, the Salamander speaks, the Spring it arrives in its obscurity – ‘
Then, speak of the thereness of things
The unmanageable pantheon
The absolute purpose they said
The corporate city
into a dream
And the guiltless joy
And the mineral fact
Even though it is impenetrable
Like the world, if it is material,
“Of Being Numerous”
“We live surrounded by things
we have to see, we have to acknowledge,
if we want to know ourselves:
the single event is part of an infinite
series of sad wonders.”
Or, at least, this is what I’ve always been told:
a tale of wickedness, a wickedness
that is not our own’s.
That old town, do you remember it?
The window in ruins where we used to sit,
imagining we were the ones who belonged.
That time is dead and alive, alive and dead,
I can’t imagine either its life or death.
A time that regenerates itself
like a creature of fire,
but then spring comes in and
draws its veil of darkness.
By these terms
the existence of things
An unmanageable pantheon,
in the barren lands
where, behind the glass,
the city of corporations
hides its dreams and pictures.
Impenetrable, like the world.
The world, impenetrable
like an open question.
“and a shadowy eden”
choices and choices ago
among the vivid and delivered
it was ours, born together.
running up against one left
in an infinity of leavings,
these sad wonders.
dusk. someone told me
a tale of our misfortune.
it was mis-sung: our misfortune this is not.
“you, you remember this old town,
us in some alley, ah, we were a sea
in the ruined window,
trying to think ourselves into those times.
dead and not dead, all that, you and I
cannot imagine its life or death; the earth speaks
and it speaks salamander,
spring’s coming condemns to the dark.”
thus our existence spoke of choices,
those unmanageable gods.
absolved, my fearful desert steps.
a city bodied forth
in dreams and visions –
and now I see purely
the quilts of stone
be and kill the self impenetrable.
you overwave me, sea of this one question;
and no place for the pen
to write its way in.
There are things
we live among and to see them
is to know ourselves.
Occurrence, a part
of the infinite procession,
the melancholy marvels;
from what they said
a tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.
Remember that old town, we went there
and sat in the ruined window, and we
tried to imagine that we belonged to this time –
he died and he did not die, you and I cannot
imagine either his life or his death; the earth speaks
and speaks salamander, spring arrives and obscures
Thus spoke of the existence of things,
the ungovernable pantheon
Absolute, but not to say
A town of corporations
and images –
and unblemished joy
owing to mineral
the world, whether a question,