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On "The Flower"

Charles Altieri

Even when a man resists the definitions of himself posed by others, he must still integrate into a seamless whole the disparate experience in which be finds himself engaged. "The Flower" beautifully illustrate the fragmented self who, in his very desire to experience himself as a self-conscious unity, generates only aestheticized fragments that mock the desire that spawned them:

[. . . .]

The poem is problematic for any interpreter because he must project onto it psychological explanations for the processes described. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to suppose that the speaker in the first stanza. already bothered by the uncertainties of self-consciousness ("I think I grow"), grows tensions in order to create some kind of life or inner vitality in his essentially empty and lonely self (hence the tensions are "flowers/in a wood where/nobody goes"). To produce the desired vitality, however, the pain from the tensions must become the object of consciousness; but consciousness tends to set off the particular experience it focuses on, to turn the dynamics of life into the static isolation of the work of art. The resulting condition is presented in the last stanza, primarily through the tone, which is quiet and sensitive, yet barely capable of restraining its despair. The primary experience is one of increasing distance, of a consciousness that is withdrawing from any dynamic interchange with experience. As the speaker alternates from "this one" to "that one," the reader sets a terrifying glimpse of the way the mind can move from participation, to pointing and cataloging. And cataloging is fragmenting: the repeated "ones" both mock the speaker’s desire for a single unified consciousness and remind the reader that consciousness cannot create its own unity. Without some kind of dialectic with others or with experience, consciousness is left turning each of its objects into unique aesthetic phenomena. The quest for unity leaves only the ironic fact of the unbridgeable distance between separate beings.

Perhaps the sure "egoist," the self-satisfied solipsist, can be so confident of his own unity that he neither recognizes the gulf between himself and other people nor creates gaps between himself and the world by continually desiring realities that transcend his present condition. But Creeley is by nature a man of intense energy always overflowing the boundaries of his selfhood and asking some response in the world beyond himself. . . .

From Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry during the 1960s. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1979. Copyright © 1979 by Associated University Presses, Inc.

Cynthia Edelberg

Creeley wrote most of the poems of For Love Part 2 in response to the disordering collapse of his first marriage. Taken together, these self-analytic poems evidence his need to sort the confusions. Creeley finds there is nothing outside himself he can really depend on. It is not that he rejects everything and everyone but that he comes to realize he is essentially on his own. "The Flower," the most memorable lyric in Part 2, conveys that sense of seemingly endless, all-pervasive emotional pain which temporarily qualifies Creeley's smug posture in his earlier poetry:

[. . .]

The poet's meditation takes place in an isolated wood, a personalized place of self-consciousness. Each flower embodies his pain and, by growing, naturally adds to his burden. The poem pits the lonely victim's endurance against his vulnerability and, in the final stanza, suggests his capacity to sustain exquisite misery, perfect in its completeness and intensity. Although the last lines do not find him counting buttons on a hangman's coat as Monsieur Teste would, they do testify to his verbal stamina in the face of anxiety which executes itself and perpetuates itself with artless delicacy, as represented by the flower. At the same time, the evil flower, in the tradition of Baudelaire, corresponds to his "inward life," and John Constable's description of Creeley's best poems in For Love is relevant here:

Creeley's best poems inhabit that area of tension between the inward life of an individual and the outward world of objects, the 'inner and outer weather' of Frost's famous poem. . . . or the design suggested by Pound, a recording of 'the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.'"

In many poems in this section Creeley focuses on "that area of tension between the inward life of an individual and the outward world of objects." He measures "outward" expectation against personally experienced actuality in an effort to explain to himself, and incidentally to us, what went wrong with his marriage.

From Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Albuquerque: University of new Mexico Press, 1978. Copyright © 1978 by University of new Mexico Press.

From a 1975 Interview

Edelberg. The last lines of "The Flower" testify to the almost beaten speaker's stamina.....

Creeley: The flower is elegantly small and wisely faint. I think it is a very coy piece of writing finally, and it is not one of my favorite poems by any means. I'd stand by it, having committed it so to speak. It's not an attitude of myself that I much enjoy. I question that the last lines testify to the poet's stamina. They have to do with a coy sense of victory, I suppose.

Alastair Wisker

Creeley’s version of the contemporary responds to the traditional with an ironising edge. Whether it be irony about the mnemonic adhesiveness or rhyme or irony about recognized forms, the traditional is admitted because it has to be responded to like other facts of existence. Irony in relation to tradition is apparently in, for instance, ‘The Flower’. Here the language of the nursery rhyme (‘she love me / she loves me not / she loves me / she loves me not’) is reconstituted into ‘Pain is a flower like that one, / like this one, / like that one, / like this one.’

From Wisker, Alastair, "Robert Creeley." In Bloom, Clive and Brian Docherty (eds.) American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. © The Editorial Board, Lumiere (Co-operative Press) Ltd., 1995.

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