The Poem

In the poetry Robert Creeley wrote during the 1980’s, he began to turn back to the early stages of his life, placing his present thoughts in a larger perspective through reflection on decisive moments of the past. The recollective sense of “The Company” is immediately established by the first word, “Backward,” which is instantly qualified by the phrase “as if retentive,” suggesting how experience accumulates. Creeley’s placement of the well-known line from William Wordsworth’s “My Heart Leaps Up,” “The child is father of [Creeley says “to”] the man,” then gives the poem specific direction; a dual track from childhood is drawn in terms of “use” (or personal choice) and “circumstance” (the outside world). The first quatrain, written in open verse in a flowing line dense with information, is followed by three similarly shaped stanzas that examine the implications of this formulation. The poet draws conclusions from his experience, summarized in terse, almost aphoristic form. The randomness of existence and the difficulty in determining the presence of any form or meaning in most human actions are posed as a central theme, as the “great expectations” of the “next town” repeatedly turn into an “empty plate” in actuality.

The fifth stanza epitomizes this situation. The poet looks back at the young men such as himself who were reaching maturity in the historical moment of World War II. The war pulled them out of...

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Forms and Devices

Creeley has said that he is “very at home” with colloquial language, and “The Company” is written with “a sense of source in common speech” characteristic of Creeley’s voice. The vernacular is qualified by interposition of quotations from familiar poetry and brief catch-phrases with origins in foreign languages, which have become a part of American culture. These provide a contrasting context, establishing a tension between an official version of history and what Creeley feels are the genuinely significant elements of most people’s lives. The Wordsworth quote recalls not only “My Heart Leaps Up” but also the much more famous “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” The Wordsworth reference seems to set a direction for the poem, but the data from one’s early years are called into question by a barrage of words such as “banality,” “vacant,” “disjunct,” and “ambivalent,” which question the data’s validity. Similarly, the line “Out of all this emptiness/ something must come” is countered by the diminution of “great expectations” into “empty plates.” In both cases, the somewhat portentous, lofty prospects promised by official culture have been turned into hollow shells. Even the adventure and excitement of foreign travel combined with the epoch-making danger of a global war, turn into a groping for meaning through reliance on historical slogans.

Creeley describes himself as “one who has been long in city...

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