The Other Hand

James Longenbach

in The Resistance to Poetry

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2004 | ISBN: 9780226492490
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226492513 | DOI:
The Other Hand

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This chapter explores the meaning of “or” in poetry. In Latin, which had several different words for “or,” the word aut was used to express an ultimatum: either X or Y. The words sive or vel were used to express a more equivocal set of alternatives: either X or Y but possibly both. George Oppen specialized in the latter kind of “or,”—an “or” that presents a choice without necessarily forcing us to make it, an “or” that leaves us suspended between alternatives whose juxtaposition seems neither dismissible nor completely satisfactory. Hamlet's “or” makes distinctions only to make the choices between alternatives seem simultaneously more urgent and more difficult to make. The sound of this kind of “or” is the sound of thinking in poetry—not the sound of finished thought but the sound of a mind alive in the syntactical process of discovering what it might be thinking.

Keywords: poems; poetry; or; George Oppen; Hamlet

Chapter.  3838 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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