“Deploying a sophisticated knowledge of the philosophical and ethical issues that animate the work of George Oppen and William Bronk, Henry Weinfield’s The Music of Thought makes an original contribution to our understanding of these two important poets. I am aware of no other book that treats Oppen and Bronk as extensively as this well-written and carefully argued work.”—Michael Davidson, author, Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics
“Poets George Oppen and William Bronk were both highly suspicious of discursive thinking: ‘Ideas are always wrong,’ Bronk famously declared. In this original and finely argued study, Henry Weinfield explores their search for an alternative ‘music of thought’ and in doing so persuasively demonstrates the continuing necessity of poetry in a prosaic age.”—Peter Nicholls, author, George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism
“Henry Weinfield’s The Music of Thought is a penetrating study of two of the most significant American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. The author implicitly demonstrates that modern poetry, which for some has been overshadowed by other literary genres and recent developments in the media, still speaks to the central concerns of our society. After reading this book, one can see that poetry still counts. This is an essential book for the study of modern poetry.”—Norman Finkelstein, author, Lyrical Interference: Essays on Poetics
George Oppen (1908–1984), born into a prosperous German Jewish family, began his career as a protégé of Ezra Pound and a member of the Objectivist circle of poets; he eventually broke with Pound and became a member of the Communist party before returning to poetry more than twenty-five years later. William Bronk (1918–1999), by contrast, a descendant of the first European families in New York, was influenced by the works of Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and the work of the New England writers of the American Renaissance. Despite differences in background and orientation, the two men formed a deep friendship and shared a similar existential outlook. As Henry Weinfield demonstrates in this searching and original study, Oppen and Bronk are extraordinary thinkers in poetry who struggled with central questions of meaning and value and whose thought acquires the resonance of music in their work. These major writers created poetry of enduring value that has exerted an increasing influence on younger generations of poets.
From his careful readings of Oppen’s and Bronk’s poetry to his fascinating examination of the letters they exchanged, Weinfield provides important aesthetic, epistemological, and historical insights into their poetry and poetic careers. In bringing together for the first time the work of two of the most important poets of the postwar generation, The Music of Thought not only illuminates their poetry but also raises important questions about American literary history and the categories in terms of which it has generally been interpreted.
I. Oppen, Bronk, and the Story behind “A Narrative” 11
II. Because the Known and the Unknown Touch: A Reading of Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous” 35
III. In the Drift of the World: A Reading of Bronk’s Life Supports: New and Collected Poems107
IV. Oppen’s Reoccupation of Traditional Lyric in “Eclogue,” “Psalm,” and “Ballad”181