Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robert Creeley has spoken of his friends and fellow artists as “a company, a kind of leaderless Robin Hood’s band, which I dearly love.There is no company dearer, more phenomenal, closer to my heart.” He further describes this loose community as writers for whom poetry is “not a purpose, not discretion, not even craft—but revelation, initial and eternal.” “The Company” is an attempt to express the sensibility that informs this conviction and to describe some of the conditions that contributed to its occurrence.

Creeley begins with negative assumptions because so much of his education and cultural conditioning seemed to interfere with the goal of his writing, “an actual possibility of revelation.” While he respects the literary achievements of various canonical writers, the weight of their reputations and the force of their mastery of form tended to narrow his own possibilities. Even while accepting many of the traditional aspects of a New England upbringing, his inclusion of the phrase “ages hence,” from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” suggests that for him, neither road was appropriate, that he and his “company” had to blaze their own trail.

The tentativeness, the hesitancy, that characterizes much of Creeley’s poetry is not evident here in the commanding, declarative tone the poet uses to dismiss the false assumptions that he and his contemporaries had to overcome. The last section attempts, as Creeley did in much of his work during the middle and late 1980’s, to mingle (as Charles Molesworth says) “quiet acceptance” with “ineradicable doubt” in search of some enduring human qualities. The “common places of feeling” recall the Ezra Pound dictum “Only emotion endures,” which Creeley often uses as a guiding precept. The tension between the “good times” one wants to remember and “whatever it was” (the nameless dread) one “can’t forget” is part of the ultimate burden of human existence. This final juxtaposition of hope and fear defines the poet’s existence, while the poem is itself an instrument in the maintenance of an optimistic attitude. It is typical of Creeley that by using language to confront and frame his fear in the repetition of an occasion (“the last, the last”) that haunts his thoughts, he is doing all he can to overcome it.