When Creeley published “Fading Light” in 1988, he was entering a phase of his career as a distinguished elder statesman of American poetry. Having gone to India during the 1940s, he had been associated with important creative writers at Black Mountain College, and later with the Beat poets. By the time he published this poem he, along with other formerly radical members of his generation, had become converted into fixtures of the poetic establishment. It is a familiar progression, from radical to tenured and respected professor, but by the late 1980s he, along with such luminaries as his old friends Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, had found themselves embraced by an establishment they had once opposed.
During the early days of Creeley’s career, modernist formalism, epitomized by the work of W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot, was at the center of American academic poetry. Things started changing rapidly during the late 1950s with the rise of confessional poets such as Robert Lowell, as well as the emergence of Creeley’s Beat friends. The 1960s were anarchic in many ways. Frequently poets felt obliged to take political stances, but Creeley, though he sympathized with the anti–Vietnam War activists, did not employ his poetry as a political tool. By the 1980s, as this poem was written, the American poetry scene had fragmented into multiple segments, each with its own audience, purposes, publications, and venues.
One of the trends in American poetry when Creeley wrote this poem was the rise of a new type of academic poetry. It is true in some sense that much poetry has been academic, in that poets often are drawn to teaching, and good poets are sometimes rewarded with teaching positions at colleges, though William Carlos Williams was a practicing physician and Wallace Stevens had been a corporate attorney. But by the 1980s, the proliferation of creative writing programs in universities around the country had...
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