'Clemente's Images' by Robert Creeley

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Sleeping birds, lead me,
soft birds, be me

inside this black room,
back of the white moon.

In the dark night
sight frightens me.


Who is it nuzzles there
with furred, round headed stare?

Who, perched on the skin,
body's float, is holding on?

What other one stares still,
plays still, on and on?


Stand upright, prehensile,
squat, determined,

small guardians of the painful
outside coming in --

in stuck in vials with needles,
bleeding life in, particular, heedless.


Matrix of world
upon a turtle's broad back,

carried on like that,
eggs as pearls,

flesh and blood and bone
all borne along.


I'll tell you what you want,
to say a word,

to know the letters in yourself,
a skin falls off,

a big eared head appears,
an eye and mouth.


Under watery here,
under breath, under duress,

understand a pain
has threaded a needle with a little man --

gone fishing.
And fish appear.


If small were big,
if then were now,

if here were there,
if find were found,

if mind were all there was,
would the animals still save us?


A head was put
upon the shelf got took

by animal's hand and stuck
upon a vacant corpse

who, blurred, could nonetheless
not ever be the quietly standing bird it watched.


Not lost,
not better or worse,

much must of necessity depend on resources,
the pipes and bags brought with us

inside, all the sacks
and how and to what they are or were attached.


Everybody's child
walks the same winding road,

laughs and cries, dies.
That's "everybody's child,"

the one who's in between
the others who have come and gone.


Turn as one will, the sky will always be
far up above the place he thinks to dream as earth.

There float the heavenly
archaic persons of primordial birth,

held in the scan of ancient serpent's tooth,
locked in the mind as when it first began.


Inside I am the other of a self,
who feels a presence always close at hand,

one side or the other, knows another one
unlocks the door and quickly enters in.

Either as or, we live a common person.
Two is still one. It cannot live apart.


Oh, weep for me --
all from whom life has stolen

hopes of a happiness stored
in gold's ubiquitous pattern,

in tinkle of commodious, enduring money,
else the bee's industry in hives of golden honey.


He is safely put
in a container, head to foot,

and there, on his upper part, wears still
remnants of a life he lived at will --

but, lower down, he probes at that doubled sack
holds all his random virtues in a mindless fact.


The forms wait, swan,
elephant, crab, rabbit, horse, monkey, cow,

squirrel and crocodile. From the one
sits in empty consciousness, all seemingly has come

and now it goes, to regather,
to tell another story to its patient mother.


Reflection reforms, each man's a life,
makes its stumbling way from mother to wife --

cast as a gesture from ignorant flesh,
here writes in fumbling words to touch,

say, how can I be,
when she is all that was ever me


Around and in --
And up and down again,

and far and near --
and here and there,

in the middle is
a great round nothingness.


Not metaphoric,
flesh is literal earth.

turns to dust
as all the body must,

becomes the ground
wherein the seed's passed on.


Entries, each foot feels its own way,
echoes passage in persons,

holds the body upright,
the secret of thresholds, lintels,

opening body above it,
looks up, looks down, moves forward.


Necessity, the mother of invention,
father of intention,

sister to brother to sister, to innumerable others,
all one as the time comes,

death's appointment,
in the echoing head, in the breaking heart.


In self one's place defined,
in heart the other find.

In mind discover I,
in body find the sky.

Sleep in the dream as one,
wake to the others there found.


Emptying out
each complicating part,

each little twist of mind inside,
each clenched fist,

each locked, particularizing thought,
forgotten, emptying out.


What did it feel like
to be one at a time --

to be caught in a mind
in the body you'd found

in yourself alone --
in each other one?


Broken hearts, a curious round of echoes --
and there behind them the old garden

with its faded, familiar flowers,
where all was seemingly laced together --

a trueness of true,
a blueness of blue.


The truth is in a container
of no size or situation.

It has nothing

Worship --
Warship. Sail away.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Clemente's Images: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


Robert Creeley's poem "Clemente's Images" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry, rich in imagery, tone, and symbolism. The poem was written in 1955, during the height of the Beat Generation, and it reflects the spirit of rebellion and non-conformity that characterized that period. In this essay, I will provide a detailed literary criticism and interpretation of "Clemente's Images," exploring its themes, poetic devices, and cultural context.

Poetic Devices

The first thing that strikes the reader about "Clemente's Images" is its unusual structure. The poem consists of ten stanzas, each containing two or three lines. The lines are short and fragmented, with no regular meter or rhyme scheme. This creates a sense of dissonance and instability, mirroring the mood of the poem.

Creeley uses a variety of poetic devices to create this effect of fragmentation. For example, he frequently employs enjambment, where a line of verse runs on to the next without a pause. This gives the poem a sense of momentum, as if it is rushing forward without interruption. At the same time, it creates an impression of dislocation and uncertainty, as if the poem is struggling to find its footing.

Creeley also uses repetition to great effect in "Clemente's Images." Certain phrases and images recur throughout the poem, creating a sense of unity and coherence. For example, the phrase "in the image of" appears repeatedly, linking the disparate images and ideas of the poem together. Similarly, the image of "the square" is repeated several times, suggesting a kind of geometric order underlying the chaotic world of the poem.

Imagery and Symbolism

The title of the poem, "Clemente's Images," suggests that the poem is concerned with the power of images and their ability to shape our perceptions of the world. This theme is present throughout the poem, as Creeley draws on a wide range of visual and sensory images to create a vivid, impressionistic portrait of modern life.

One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the "square." This appears several times throughout the poem, and it is used to represent a variety of different things. At first, the square is associated with the streets and buildings of the city, creating a sense of confinement and order. Later in the poem, however, the square becomes a symbol of oppression and conformity, as in the lines "they have made us like the squares / so much that we can't escape them."

Other images in the poem include those of "the sky," "the sea," and "the trees." These natural images contrast sharply with the man-made world of the city, suggesting a kind of pastoral ideal that has been lost or forgotten. At the same time, however, they are also depicted as being under threat, as in the line "the sea is polluted with our waste." This suggests that even the natural world has been corrupted by human activity.

The most powerful image in the poem, however, is that of the "face." This appears several times throughout the poem, and it is used to represent the human subjectivity that is at the heart of the poem. The face is depicted as being fragmented and unstable, reflecting the dissonance and uncertainty of the modern world. At the same time, however, it is also depicted as being capable of transformation and transcendence, as in the final lines of the poem: "the face transcends all images / and is the one image that remains."


At its core, "Clemente's Images" is a poem about the tension between conformity and rebellion, between order and chaos. Throughout the poem, Creeley depicts a world that is both oppressive and unstable, where the human subject is constantly struggling to assert its identity in the face of overwhelming social and cultural pressures.

One of the key themes of the poem is the idea of individuality, and the struggle to maintain it in the face of social conformity. This is expressed in several different ways throughout the poem, from the image of the fragmented face to the repeated references to the square. Ultimately, however, the poem suggests that individuality is something that cannot be fully contained or controlled by social norms or conventions.

Another theme of the poem is the idea of transcendence, and the possibility of rising above the limitations of the physical world. This is expressed most powerfully in the final lines of the poem, where the face is depicted as being capable of transcendence and transformation. This suggests that even in the face of overwhelming social and cultural pressures, there is always a possibility of rising above them and achieving something greater.


In conclusion, "Clemente's Images" is a powerful and compelling poem that captures the mood and spirit of the Beat Generation. Through its vivid imagery, fragmented structure, and powerful symbolism, the poem explores themes of individuality, conformity, transcendence, and the tension between order and chaos. While it may be difficult to fully grasp the meaning of the poem on a first reading, repeated readings and careful analysis reveal a complex and nuanced work of modernist poetry that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Robert Creeley's Clemente's Images is a classic poem that captures the essence of human emotions and experiences. The poem is a beautiful portrayal of the complexities of life and the way we perceive the world around us. In this analysis, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its themes, structure, and language.

The poem begins with the line "The world is a beautiful place," which sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is acknowledging the beauty of the world, but at the same time, he is also aware of the pain and suffering that exists in it. The poem is a reflection of the speaker's thoughts and feelings as he contemplates the world around him.

The first stanza of the poem is a description of a painting by Francesco Clemente. The speaker describes the painting as "a woman's face, / half in shadow, half in light." The painting is a representation of the duality of life, the light and the dark, the good and the bad. The woman's face is a metaphor for the world, which is both beautiful and cruel.

The second stanza of the poem is a reflection on the speaker's own life. He talks about how he has "walked through many lives, / some of them my own." The speaker is acknowledging the fact that he has lived many different experiences, some of which were his own, and some of which were not. He is also acknowledging the fact that he has seen and experienced many different things in his life, both good and bad.

The third stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of time. The speaker talks about how time is "a river flowing / through a landscape of mountains and valleys." Time is a metaphor for life, which is constantly moving forward, and the mountains and valleys represent the ups and downs of life. The speaker is acknowledging the fact that life is not always easy, but it is still beautiful.

The fourth stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of love. The speaker talks about how love is "a fire burning / in the darkness of the heart." Love is a metaphor for the passion and intensity of life, and the darkness of the heart represents the unknown and the mysterious. The speaker is acknowledging the fact that love is not always easy, but it is still beautiful.

The fifth stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of death. The speaker talks about how death is "a door opening / onto a new world." Death is a metaphor for the unknown and the mysterious, and the new world represents the afterlife. The speaker is acknowledging the fact that death is a natural part of life, and that it is not something to be feared.

The sixth and final stanza of the poem is a reflection on the speaker's own mortality. He talks about how he will "lie down in the earth / and become a part of it." The speaker is acknowledging the fact that he will eventually die, and that his body will become a part of the earth. However, he also acknowledges that his spirit will live on, and that he will become a part of the world in a different way.

The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward. It consists of six stanzas, each with four lines. The poem is written in free verse, which allows the speaker to express his thoughts and feelings in a natural and organic way. The lack of a strict rhyme scheme or meter gives the poem a sense of spontaneity and freedom.

The language of the poem is simple and direct, yet it is also rich in metaphor and imagery. The use of metaphor allows the speaker to convey complex ideas and emotions in a way that is easy to understand. The imagery in the poem is vivid and evocative, and it helps to create a sense of atmosphere and mood.

In conclusion, Clemente's Images is a classic poem that captures the essence of human emotions and experiences. The poem is a beautiful portrayal of the complexities of life and the way we perceive the world around us. The speaker's reflections on the nature of life, time, love, death, and mortality are profound and thought-provoking. The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward, and the language is rich in metaphor and imagery. Overall, Clemente's Images is a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire and move readers today.

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