Does Creeley come to solid conclusions or leave you with questions as opposed to Bishop’s clear-cut definitions of things? But is it not the job of any good poem to leave the reader with more questions than answers? Bishop and Creeley may have far different styles, but both are just as complex in what they are writing. Bishop is very precise, and Creeley is fundamentally vaguer.
Creeley’s work is just as complex, but Creeley doesn’t trust what is in his mind, but only what is in front of him as it is. He constantly grasps for explanations of feelings he has no words to truly define, but even lacking the proper vocabulary, he does his best struggling to try and define the shape of his feeling, outline it as best he can. Bishop is legendary for her attention to detail and sensory perception. The Harvard Square Library website refers to her as “a poet of observation and not of personal relationships.” She trusts her senses. It seems Creeley does not.
But to avoid a simple compare and contrast, what is crucial here is not their differences, but their greatest similarity, they are both trying to make sense of things. So, Creeley is easier to read, but is he also easier to understand? Is there more or less to understand, or is that sort of thinking a trap which only confuses the reader in analyzing these complex pieces of art?
Fortunately, looking to each of their poetry yields some insight into analyzing this question. First, it would seem to be prudent to look at Elizabeth Bishop first, considering hers is the most detailed, and then the contrast between styles will be much more evident.
First of all, Bishop’s poem “The Map” is a perfect example of her close attention to detail.
“Land lies in water, it is shadowed green
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
Showing the line of long sea – weeded ledges
Where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.”
Bishop's poems paint vibrant landscapes through words. She observes what ordinary people would see as a simple map, and through this poem she shows her admiration for the art of the map itself, as well as showing appreciation for the art of mapmaking in general. Not only that, she also writes in appreciation of how tangible maps can make the great landscapes of the Earth. “We can stroke these lovely bays,” she writes, “under a glass as if they were expected to blossom, or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.”
Bishop reveals herself again and again through this and other poems as a poet of nature, closely observing every little aspect of it, and even in the “the Man-Moth,” so awkward a misprint for mammoth, we are treated to the main character of her poem as a “shadow,” a man like an animal lurking in the night, fearful and primitive. There are no sympathies for this strange man she describes, but simply cold, hard observation.
Cracks in the building are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
And he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.”
Bishop introduces the reader to an outcast, one who apparently lives beneath the surface of society. This is not a happy poem; it has a dark, solemn mood to it, and it does not speak well of man as a creature.
Creeley’s poetry is profoundly different at its core than Bishop’s. His poem “I Keep to Myself Such Measures…” is a good example of his work, and perhaps in a sense, personifies much of his poetry. Where Bishop was concerned with the minute details that made up the whole of a thing, Creeley is more concerned with the shape of things, and that perhaps to contemplate their substance much beyond that can lead to bad things.
“I keep to myself such
measures as I care for,
daily the rocks
Creeley seems to break off lines in such odd places. But, this is done intentionally to enhance the meaning of words at the beginning and ending of lines. He continues,
“There is nothing
but what thinking makes
it less tangible. The mind,
fast as it goes, loses”
Essentially, as he alludes to a line out of Hamlet, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so…” to contemplate anything too long does not gain one much of anything good. Contemplating something too long can make a thing much more than it really is. In Creeley’s eyes, Bishop’s admirable attentions to detail would go much too far. Basically, it is possible to become too engrossed in observation and distort the reality. Creeley then picks up,
“pace, puts in place of it
like rocks simple markers,
for a way only to
hopefully come back to
where it cannot. All
forgets. My mind sinks.
I hold in both hands such weight
It is my only description”
There is a run-on sentence to finish that poem, as if two complete thoughts run together into a single grammatically incorrect mess. What can we take from that? It is a formless weight which he seems to call his “only description”. This is not only a profound departure from attention to detail, but it creates a new sort of poetry all its own, a poetry of the shapes of things, rather than the color and close details, the more so-called romantic aspects of poetry. It is, then, possible to lose yourself to your observations completely.
Whereas Bishop’s poems are so full of lines to mull over and paint in our mind’s eye landscapes, bring our minds to see exactly what she sees, Creeley completely departs from that and gives us vagueness and it is frustrating, but the magical thing here is he allows one to easily share with him those frustrations. Creeley's poem, “Again,” is a work about the everyday.
“One more day gone,
done, found in
the form of days.
It began, it
Ended – was
Slow, fast, a
Sun shone, clouds,
High in the air I was
For awhile with others,
Then came down
On the ground again.
No moon. A room in
A hotel, to begin
There are not many words there, but already he has said so much. He describes a daily cycle, vaguely, but somehow completely. Being vague for him is a way of expressing a complete thought. Bishop faithfully chronicles the details of circumstances and happenstances, whereas Creeley is more concerned with the bigger picture. He is more interested in what encapsulates all these different happenings and things.
To simply compare and contrast Bishop and Creeley would reveal them to be very different poets of two completely varying styles from different schools of thought. However, in a way they are writing about many of the same things, just from entirely different perspectives. There is the argument that all poets are simply having a conversation with one another. To look at these two poets in that way, you could somewhat fit Bishop’s poems inside of Creeley’s.
It would be sufficient to conclude that Creeley’s poems are much more like shells, written in fewer words than the complete whole of the poem’s substance would suggest. Bishop writes only what she means and what is right there in front of her. Creeley sees many of the same things, but he does not romanticize and so closely scrutinize everything; he takes a much broader view of everything.
Bishop, Elizabeth. "The Map." The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O'clair.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
Bishop, Elizabeth. "The Man-moth." The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert
O'clair. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
Creeley, Robert. "Again." The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O'clair. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
Creeley, Robert. "I Keep to Myself Such Measures." The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O'clair. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
"Elizabeth Bishop." Harvard Square Library. 2006. Harvard U. 26 Jan 2018 <http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/cambridge-harvard/elizabeth-bishop/>.
"Robert Creeley." Harvard Square Library. 2006. Harvard U. 26 Jan 2018 <http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/cambridge-harvard/robert-creeley/>.