The evil Thomas the Tank Engine

Simply put, I found the Oppen’s “Image of the Engine” to be a great piece of work. The first stanza really made a deep impression upon me. Clearly the wordiest part of the poem, Oppen spares no detail in the moment that he beholds the churning piece of steel. In reviewing his description as a whole of the engine, one conjures the image of a hulking behemoth comprised of many flexing mechanical parts (muscles). The fourth line of the stanza reads “A machine involved with itself, a concentrated/Hot lump of a machine. This really contributes a sense of conscious and self awareness to the Engine, lending a human quality to it. Channeling the sense that one gains from Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra and of course screaming Walt Whitman, the poem continues on in a reactionary tone against what its author sees as a deeper presence of this mechanical life that man has created. The poem’s focus is lifted above the machine on the tracks and assumes a more lofty tone. Even the mighty machine that is meant to surpass human capability is argued to be just as fragile and brief as man’s life. He refers to the very essence of mortality not with the image of a coffin or a gravestone, but with the image of a machine at a standstill and at the mercy of time’s withering touch.

From this point the poem truly inward and reflects Oppen’s objectivist features. The remainder of the poem is told in a woeful tone as the very world that created his tortured life is crumbling in front of his very eyes. The country that shove him away for several years is now littered with layers of shops that produce ‘squalid toys’ for children seeking some form of affection, only to be left wanting and then to litter the streets with them. The city that he sees as leaking is not only physically deteriorating, but seeping out the good substance that Oppen clearly yearns for.

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