Self-Portrait

He wants to be

a brutal old man,

an aggressive old man,

as dull, as brutal

as the emptiness around him,

 

He doesn’t want compromise,   

nor to be ever nice

to anyone. Just mean,

and final in his brutal,

his total, rejection of it all.

 

He tried the sweet,   

the gentle, the “oh,

let’s hold hands together”

and it was awful,

dull, brutally inconsequential.

 

Now he’ll stand on

his own dwindling legs.   

His arms, his skin,   

shrink daily. And

he loves, but hates equally.

Robert Creeley, “Self-Portrait” from The Selected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–2005. Copyright © 1991 by The Regents of University of California. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Dive in 
  1. If this is a self-portrait, what is the speaker saying about himself?
  2. Do you relate to this speaker, or do you distrust him?
  3. What do you think he means that he found “the sweet, the gentle” to be “awful, / dull, brutally inconsequential”?
  4. How does the speaker envision the aging process? Is his true defiance the refusal to soften as he grows older?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you use? Would it shift at all? Where?
  6. Write a poem imagining what kind of old person you would like to be.

Useful Links

 

Watch Robert Creeley reading this poem in an excerpt from Ron Mann’s excellent documentary Poetry In Motion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxQSKj5DsDY

 

Listen to recordings of Robert Creeley read: http://wings.buffalo.edu/epc/authors/creeley/