Creeley’s “Myself”

When I suddenly find a number of poems I like clustered together after reading the previous hundred pages and scarcely finding one I liked, I wonder if it’s me or the poet that’s at fault. Have I been reading in some kind of mental daze, unable to recognize a masterpiece when I see it?

Generally, I end up dismissing such self-doubts because to admit them would require me to re-read far more than I have time to read. Instead, I surmise that, like me, poets sometimes discover the right vein and mine it for all it’s worth until it finally runs out.

Whatever accounts for such a phenomena, I suddenly found a dozen or so of Creeley’s poems that I like in the last 150 pages of his Selected Poems. Since I’d already typed “Myself” by the time I found the others, I’ll just pretend this is my favorite in this section:


What, younger, felt
was possible, now knows
is not – but still
not changed enough –

Walked by the sea,
unchanged in memory –
evening, as clouds
on the far-off rim

of water float,
pictures of time,
smoke, faintness –
still the dream.

I want, if older,
still to know
why, human, men
and women are

so torn, so lost,
why hopes cannot
find better world
than this.

Shelley is dead and gone,
who said,
“Taught them not this –
to know themselves;

their might could not repress
the mutiny within,
And for the morn
of truth they feigned,

deep night
Caught them ere evening . . .”

I must admit that the poem seems flawed because of, to me at least, an awkward opening stanza. While I like gnomic lines better than most, the stanza comes off like a badly-written telegram rather than a poem.

The poem is redeemed, though, by “I want, if older,/ still to know/ why, human, men/ and women are/ so torn, so lost,/ why hopes cannot/ find better world/ than this.” Who, in old age, and, youth, too, for that matter, has not felt “so torn, so lost” after such great hopes at the beginning, as if the beginning inevitably contains within itself seeds of despair that inevitably come to full bloom at their appointed time.

While it’s these middle stanzas that I like best, I’m also attracted to the final quotation from Shelley, a quotation from “The Triumph Of Life,”
the poem Shelley was working on at his death. The recognition that this same question has preoccupied past generations adds resonance to the feelings expressed here. We realize it is the human condition to fail and to despair in that failure unless in the end we are able to truly understand ourselves and our needs.

Robert Creeley’s “Do You Think That”

I haven’t found nearly as many poems that I liked in the middle section of Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems as I did in the early section. That’s probably partially due to the fact that I generally prefer short, lyrical poems to longer poems. But it’s also due to a shift in focus. Some of the these poems tend to be more “philosophical,” and thus more ambiguous. There’s also an increased number of “romantic,” i.e. “love” poems, and while they might well be the most popular of his poems, they aren’t my favorites.

That said, I did like the rather meditative:


Do you think that if
you once do what you want
to do you will want not to do it.

Do you think that if
there’s an apple on the table
and somebody eats it, it
won’t be there anymore.

Do you think that if
two people are in love with one another,
one or the other has got to be
less in love than the other at
some point in the otherwise happy relationship.

Do you think that if
you once took a breath, you’re by
that committed to taking the next one
and so on until the very process of
breathing’s an endlessly expanding need
almost of its own necessity forever.

Do you think that if
no one knows then whatever
it is, no one will know and
that will be the case, like
they say, for an indefinite
period of time if such time
can have a qualification of such time.

Do you know anyone
really. Have you been, really,
much alone. Are you lonely,
now for example. Does anything
really matter to you, really, or
has anything mattered. Does each
thing tend to be there, and then not
to be there, just as if that were it.

Do you think that if
I said, I love you, or anyone
said it, or you did. Do you
think that if you had all
such decisions to make and could
make them. Do you think that
if you did. That you really
would have to think it all into
reality, that world, each time, new.

Perhaps I’m simply more drawn to the structure of this poem than some of the others, with the Whitmanesque repetition of “Do you think that if.” Though at first I found it rather jarring that Creeley left the question mark out of all the questions, by the end of the poem I rather enjoyed it, as if somehow questions and answers were synonymous. I also appreciated the fact that each stanza grew by one line as the questions he asked became more and more complicated.

Although the questions in the first three stanzas seem to have relatively straight-forward answers, the later questions become harder and harder to answer, until we’re left to question the very things that seem the most important to us. What is knowable? Is love forever, or do we constantly have to “think it all into reality … each time, new”?

In other words, the poem does a good job of making us question all those things that we take for granted until we are forced to see them anew.

This section ends with a very different poem:


One day after another –
They all fit.

Somehow after all the long poems, after all the questions raised, it seemed the perfect place for a very different assertion – even if it’s very likely not true.

Early Robert Creeley Poems

I’m not sure whether I like Creeley’s “I Know a Man” because Mike has quoted it to me a couple of times or just because it appealed to me. Turns out, though, that it’s one of Creeley’s most famous poems, as discussed in great detail here:


As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

The casual, conversational style of the poem is typical of the early poems I’ve read so far. Considering Creeley became friends with a number of the Beat Poets, perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that the poem sounds like an advertisement for Kerouac’s On the Road, managing to convey both the sense of darkness in that work as well as the central metaphor of driving, and, aptly enough, the need to watch out while driving.

Somehow it seems typically American (Or is just that we’re so damned good at it?) to try to chase away the dark side of life by buying big, expensive cars and driving fast as hell. Isn’t that why almost all male, mid-life crises are accompanied by a sports car, with or without beautiful young babes?

Thematically, “Mind’s Heart” is perhaps even more typical of Creeley’s early poems:


Mind’s heart, it must
be that some
truth lies locked
in you.

Or else, lies, all
lies, and no man
true enough to know
the difference.

For someone who seemed rather unlucky in love, Creeley certainly wrote about it a lot. And while this poem’s not about romantic love, per se, that may be precisely why it appeals to me more than some of the poems that are clearly about romantic love.

While there’s certainly no earth-shattering revelations here, it does fit quite well with Creeley’s opening statement that, “With Robert Duncan I’m committed to the hearth, and love the echoes of that word. The fire is the center.”

Sometimes the simplest statement, gnomic wisdom, as it were, is the best reminder of our deepest truths.