Creeley’s “What”

Reading Robert Creeley has been an interesting experience. In a lot of ways, the immediacy of his work reminds me of the Beats. Perhaps that’s because many of his poems seem “unfinished” to me, as if somehow the reader has caught the poet in media res.

I think that’s both a weakness and a strength. There’s something powerful about feeling like you are thinking with the poet. The poem becomes a shared experience.

For instance, I can easily imagine myself thinking:


What would it be
like walking off
by oneself down

that path in the
classic woods the light
life of breeze softness

of this early evening and
you want some time
to yourself to think

of it all again
and again an
empty ending?

In fact, I try to do this every day. It’s also the way I’d like to imagine myself leaving this plane. Fading off down the trail, again and again. Spending some time by myself, thinking. Thinking of the past. Re-exploring old thoughts from a new, older perspective.

What I miss in Creeley’s poetry, though, is the sense that these are the poet’s best, or final, thoughts on a subject. It’s fascinating seeing a poet’s rough drafts to a masterpiece, but it would be more fascinating if you’ve actually seen the masterpiece itself.

3 thoughts on “Creeley’s “What””

  1. Guess I’d have disagree with your final assessment. I think Creeley is a genius at best least words there are. Just take those first two stanzas. Each line in them is a simple complex. “What would it be”: great questioning opening. And “like walking off” is such a getaway. And “by oneself down” is again a closing, a getting away into the self, and a wonderful dropping off into the next stanza. Where “that path in the” I can see a path just continuing unseen (I’m not usually crazy about lines ending with an articl, but this one works). Then, the coup de gras: “classic woods the light” what can I say about that almost godlike setting. Etc etc etc with each spare line. But that’s IMHO.

  2. I’d certainly agree that this is a good poem, though I might question whether ’tis a great poem

    The criticism I suggest here is probably more relevant to his poetry “as a whole” than to this particular poem.

    I think my greatest complaint about Creeley’s poetry is that he relies too heavily on “words” and not enough on imagery in his poetry. In that aspect, I think he falls short of William Carlos Williams.

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