Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

A Sense of Measure

A Sense of Measure

I am wary of any didactic program for the arts and yet I cannot ignore the fact that poetry, in my own terms of experience, obtains to an unequivocal order. What I deny, then, is any assumption that that order can be either acknowledged or gained by intellectual assertion, or will, or some like intention to shape language to a purpose which the literal act of writing does not itself discover. Such senses of pattern as I would admit are those having to do with a preparatory ritual, and however vague it may sound, I mean simply that character of invocation common to both prayer and children's games.

But it is more relevant here to make understood that I do not feel the usual sense of subject in poetry to be of much use. My generation has a particular qualification to make of this factor because it came of age at a time when a man's writing was either admitted or denied in point of its agreement with the then fashionable concerns of 'poetic' comment. William Carlos Williams was, in this way, as much criticized for the things he said as for the way in which he said them. I feel that 'subject' is at best a material of the poem, and that poems finally derive from some deeper complex of activity.

I am interested, for example, to find that "automatic or inspirational speech tends everywhere to fall into metrical patterns" as E. R. Dodds notes in The Greeks and the Irrational . Blake's "Hear the voice of the Bard" demands realization of a human phenomenon, not recognition of some social type. If we think of the orders of

Times Literary Supplement , August 6, 1964.


experience commonly now acknowledged, and of the incidence of what we call chance , it must be seen that no merely intellectual program can find reality, much less admit it, in a world so complexly various as ours has proved.

Recent studies in this country involved with defining the so-called creative personality have defined very little indeed and yet one of their proposals interests me. It is that men and women engaged in the arts have a much higher tolerance for disorder than is the usual case. This means, to me, that poets among others involved in comparable acts have an intuitive apprehension of a coherence which permits them a much greater admission of the real, the phenomenal world, than those otherwise placed can allow. Perhaps this is little more than what Otto Rank said some time ago in Art and Artist concerning the fact that an artist does die with each thing he does, insofar as he depends upon the conclusion of what possibilities do exist for him. Paradoxically, nothing can follow from that which is altogether successful. But again this risk is overcome—in the imagination—by trust of that coherence which no other means can discover. It would seem to me that occasional parallels between the arts and religion may well come from this coincidence of attitude, at least at times when neither philosophy nor psychology is the measure of either.

Lest I be misunderstood—by 'religion' I mean a basic visionary experience, not a social order or commitment, still less a moral one. Gary Snyder tells me that the Indians consider the experience of visions a requisite for attaining manhood. So they felt their enemy, the whites, not men, simply that so few of the latter had ever gained this measure of their own phenomenality. In this sense I am more interested, at present, in what is given to me to write apart from what I might intend. I have never explicitly known—before writing—what it was that I would say. For myself, articulation is the intelligent ability to recognize the experience of what is so given, in words. I do not feel that such a sense of writing is 'mindless' or 'automatic' in a pejorative way. At the end of Paterson V Williams writes:

—Learning with age to sleep my life away:
saying        .

      The measure intervenes, to measure is all we know . . .

I am deeply interested in the act of such measure , and I feel it to involve much more than an academic sense of metric. There can no


longer be a significant discussion of the meter of a poem in relation to iambs and like terms because linguistics has offered a much more detailed and sensitive register of this part of a poem's activity. Nor do I feel measure to involve the humanistic attempt to relate all phenomena to the scale of human appreciation thereof. And systems of language—the world of discourse which so contained Sartre et al.—are also for me a false situation if it is assumed they offer a modality for being, apart from description. I am not at all interested in describing anything.

I want to give witness not to the thought of myself—that specious concept of identity—but, rather, to what I am as simple agency, a thing evidently alive by virtue of such activity. I want, as Charles Olson says, to come into the world. Measure, then, is my testament. What uses me is what I use and in that complex measure is the issue. I cannot cut down trees with my bare hand, which is measure of both tree and hand. In that way I feel that poetry, in the very subtlety of its relation to image and rhythm, offers an intensely various record of such facts. It is equally one of them.


A Sense of Measure

Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.