Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although doubt and uncertainty are the climate of much of Creeley’s poetry, there is a hard-won hope based on the trials of experience that resists despair or cynicism. In “Plague,” a poem written in terse two-line units which are like semidiscrete couplets that lean into each other, the world is described in those times when it has become “a pestilence! a sullen, inexplicable contagion” for the poet. Creeley reaches back toward the medical imagery of his father’s life to form a figure for mental disorder, a figure which conveys the feeling of “a painful rush inward, isolate”—akin to a time in his own childhood when he saw “lonely lepers” he knew to be social pariahs “just down the street,/ back of shades drawn, closed doors.”
The closeness of the afflicted, the people damned by disease, reminds Creeley of how near to disaster all people are. In times of mental pressure or pain, the poet realizes, anyone may be similarly ravaged, forced to submit to a kind of universal aloneness in which the individual is transformed into an alien “them.” “No one talked to them, no one/ held them anymore,” he laments soberly. For a poet who was a master of the considered relationship, this complete absence of even the possibility of love is chilling to contemplate. However, as in an earlier poem in which Creeley called on the rain to inspire “decent happiness,” here he reaffirms the reaching, sympathizing impulse in the human spirit in a symbolic evocation of “the faint sun”:
again, we look for the faint sun,as they are still there, we hope,and we are coming.
A poem such as “Plague” shows how the pared-down, lean lines and the open interconnected images produce “movingly rich emotional testaments” that are impressive explorations of language and self-consciousness—the kind of poetry that Creeley made his own.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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Clark, Tom. Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Commonplace. New York: New Directions, 1993.
Edelberg, Cynthia. Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978.
Faas, Ekbert, and Maria Trombaco. Robert Creeley: A Biography. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.
Ford, Arthur. Robert Creeley. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.
Foster, Edward Halsey. Understanding the Black Mountain Poets. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Fox, Willard. Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.
Oberg, Arthur. Modern American Lyric: Lowell, Berryman, Creeley, and Plath. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1977.
Rifkin, Libbie. Career Moves: Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Berrigan, and the American Avant-Garde. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.
Terrell, Carroll, ed. Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1984.
Wilson, John, ed. Robert Creeley’s Life and Work: A Sense of Increment. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987.