Charles Altieri: On "The Flower"

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. . . .


Title Charles Altieri: On "The Flower" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Altieri Criticism Target Robert Creeley
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry During the 1960s
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