The Poem

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The title of Robert Creeley’s first collection of poetry from previously published volumes, For Love (1962), is an accurate summation of one of the essential concerns of many of the poems gathered there, but as critic Cid Corman points out, the second section includes “some of the unhappiest love poems of our time.” While Creeley has always maintained that the possibility of love is one of the strongest restorative forces humans can bring to bear against the ruins of time, the poems in A Form of Women were written during the strained, difficult days when his first marriage was moving toward dissolution.

Utilizing a four-line stanza that is like a short quatrain without rhyme, Creeley has created a basic unit that can either advance or “stop anywhere” so that each stanza is both a single meditative block and a part of a larger grouping. The first section, composed of three stanzas, begins with a couplet which presents the poet’s philosophical position—his belief that his previous experiences have so shaped his sense of himself and the world that they will be a dominant factor in any relationship. The next two stanzas amplify this idea, asserting that the accumulation of experience has been driven by the will to probe and question even at the risk of uncovering some disquieting or unsettling aspect of his psyche. These stanzas move toward a pause, leading to the development of a meditative mood as the poet examines his investigative impulses. Recalling how he has often journeyed in solitude through the natural world, considering phenomena while subject to the apprehension induced by the unknown, the poet establishes one of his most fundamental motives in his last observation: the desire “to know,” which stands in opposition to the fear of unnerving revelation.

The next section introduces the woman to whom the poem is partially addressed, drawing her into his sphere of experience, joining her presence to the other mysteries of existence. He finds that he is inclined to reach toward the woman, to make contact, but is prevented by the same abstract fear that has troubled him before. In spite of their shared experience, he is still unable to “touch” her in the most crucial ways.

In the sixth stanza, a midpoint or balancing point, the poet frames the developing poem in the midst of its composition as a kind of gift—a presentation of the self which explains the value of what he is offering (“have care for its contents”) as well as the difficulty he has in making the presentation. The intimate nature of his gift (“My faceMy handsMy mouth”) is expressed as an aspect of tangible physicality, but his uncertainty continues as he wonders whether those features most crucial to his being are sufficient to explain who he is.

Ostensibly addressing the moon (a figure for mystery) in the eighth stanza, the poet plaintively states that when “you leave me alone/ all the darkness is/ an utter blackness”—an expression of desperation, since he feels that he cannot make contact or live without an attempt at contact. The prospect of separation leaves a “pit of fear,” and because of this “stench,” he knows that he must try again, reassured by the knowledge that in spite of all difficulties, he can still say “But I love you.” This remains a source of hope but not of confidence, since the poem closes with his recurring concern, “What to say/ when you see me.”

Forms and Devices

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The poem “A Form of Women” is concerned with understanding the self, the world, and the way in which a relationship with...

(This entire section contains 476 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

another person shapes this understanding. Each of these aspects of existence is a part of the uncertainty of knowing, and the poet’s attempts to describe and perceive the form (that is, the essential nature) of the things of his life is concentrated in his quest for some ways to realize the self through the process of love. In order to do this, he attempts to examine the elusive forms of the woman who has been a part of this process. While he is never so direct as to establish an equivalence between the forms of a woman and such abstractions as love, life, or light, the poem moves tentatively in that direction.

The most specific metaphoric arrangement occurs in the eighth stanza, with the address “Moon, moon,” which is both to the “you” (the woman) in the poem and to a lunar diety as a feminine goddess, an idea which is extended further by the idea of the woman’s removal as the cause of “utter blackness.” The sense of moonlight and love as intermingled is implied by the poet’s plea for care when “the moon shines.” The setting, a walk “to see the moonlight” within a cloak of darkness, emphasizes the intimacy of the relationship and contributes to its mystery. Images of light and dark are employed throughout the poem to render the shifting perspective of the poet toward the woman he loves and toward his sense of self.

Creeley’s use of language is primarily abstract and suggestive rather than specifically descriptive in accordance with his search for universalities of form. He refers to a previous part of his life as “where,” refers to “things” looking at him; and says that he fears “shapes.” The tension between the vague unease of existence and the attempt to locate something specific he can hold is paralled by his desire to “touch”—that is, to measure shape or identify form. This urge is developed through the course of the poem by the initial repetition of the word “I,” followed by the eventual introduction of “you”; in the final stanza, “I” shifts to “me,” which is joined, tentatively, to “you.” The disjunction between “I” and “My” adds additional weight to the pressures dividing the self, and dividing the self from another.

The complete reliance on a conversational vernacular, wound into tight clusters of words almost entirely of single and double syllables, is characteristic of the spare, trim language Creeley uses. The minimal use of metaphor and external reference is a part of Creeley’s strategy to make the poem “exist through itself,” an appropriate technique for a poem that works as an exploration of language and self-consciousness while providing an emotive context for abstraction.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Allen, Donald, ed. Contexts of Poetry: Interviews with Robert Creeley, 1961-1971. Bolinas, Calif.: Four Seasons, 1973.

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.