I Keep to Myself Such Measures . . . by Robert Creeley

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I Keep to Myself Such Measures . . . Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The nature of language and its relationship to the physical world and the individual self (“speech is a mouth,” Creeley exclaims with audacity in “The Language”) is the subject of the poem “I Keep to Myself Such Measures.” The title, which is completed in the second line by the very personal “ . . . as I care for,” is an expression of the poet’s interest in dimensions both in his art and in his daily life.

The completing line of the first stanza, “daily the rocks/ accumulate position,” uses a concrete object to stand for the accretion of experience, but then, in a dramatic reversal, Creeley qualifies the particularity of the rocks by observing, “There is nothing/ but what thinking makes/ it less tangible,” expressing one of his most basic principles: the concern that language is nebulous and that the thought it renders can never be precise or final. Nevertheless, a position is established through the direction ordered by experience, even though that position is never so solid that it cannot be shaken.

The consequence of Creeley’s perception that “thinking makes/ it less tangible” compromises sanity itself, leading to uncertainty as a principle of existence:

  The mindfast as it goes, losespace, puts in place of itlike rocks simple markers,for a way only tohopefully come back towhere it cannot.

The “simple markers” to which Creeley refers are the mental coordinates that prove unsatisfactory as permanent guidelines because of the motion—external and internal—that is the source of change in every form of life. The realization that the mind “cannot” come back to a previous position is the burden and fascination of the entire process of perception.

Creeley’s attempts to deal with this transitory universe are the focus of his measuring; his creation of the measures in his poems is a figure for a method of seeing that requires a measuring of everything in the personal realm. The “rocks” or “simple markers” cause him to say “My mind sinks” because measure is both a restriction and a point of reference, but because there is no alternative (if the mind is to be maintained at all as a functioning entity), Creeley concludes that “I hold in both hands such weight/ it is my only description.” The word “such” retains the ambiguity of the shifting process of measuring, but the tangibility of “both hands” reinforces the importance of the...

(The entire section is 572 words.)