Robert Creeley

I Know a Man by Robert Creeley

Creeley’s ‘I Know a Man’ is about the growing darkness gnawing at the human soul, affecting its light and diminishing its inherent goodness. This poem hints at the condition of humankind in modern times.

In ‘I Know a Man,’ Robert Creeley presents a speaker who is concerned about the “darkness” around humanity. Ironically, he tries to get out of it by indulging in materialism. Creeley, one of the Black Mountain poets, authored more than sixty books. His early works appeared in the Nomad magazine. This poem appears in the collection, Selected Poems of Robert Creeley. It was published in 1991.

I Know a Man by Robert Creeley


Robert Creeley’s ‘I Know a Man’ is about a speaker who broods over the darkness surrounding all and tries to hide from it.

Creeley uses a first-person speaker in order to present his intriguing idea in this poem. The speaker represents those who are deeply indulged in materialism, consumerism, and sensuality. This piece explores how the speaker finds the darkness surrounding humankind (including him) intriguing. He suggests to his companion that they should buy a luxurious car and drive through it. In this way, Creeley describes people’s escapist mindset in the face of a spiritual problem.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

As I sd to my   


rounds us, what

The first tercet of the poem ‘I Know a Man’ begins with a conversation. There are two friends. One of them is the speaker of this piece. He told his friend that he was talkative. Naturally, this line raises a question in readers’ minds. Does he really talk much? It cannot be answered directly. After reading the whole text, it becomes clear the speaker was stressed mentally. The words that came out of his mouth imply his desperation in finding a way out.

The speaker did not even know with whom he was traveling. He just called him “John” without caring to ask about his real name. His wish was to begin a conversation with the person sitting next to him. All he wanted to know was about the “darkness.” It was not the absence of light that intrigued him the most. Rather, it was his desperation to stay away from its clasp.

Lines 7-12

can we do against


out where yr going.

In the next line of ‘I Know a Man,’ the speaker asked whether they could do something to stop the darkness. It is important to clarify the meaning of “darkness” with respect to this poem. Here, Creeley talks about hedonism, materialism, and consumerism by referring to this term. It can also be a hint of the spiritual ignorance of modern human beings.

The speaker proposed that they could buy an incredibly big car and drive throughout the journey. In this way, they could stay out of the darkness, enclosed in the car.

His companion urged him to stop talking and heed to their destination. This section contains the essence of the poem. In the modern world, people are out of answers. They chase an answer without even understanding their problem. So, the poet tells them to focus on the problem first. Then they can understand where their minds are directing them to.


‘I Know a Man’ is an unconventional lyric that is written in a conversational form. The poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker. He represents modern humankind as a whole. Besides, the text is in the free-verse. It means there is no regular rhyme or meter. Regarding the structure, the poem is composed of four tercets (stanzas having three lines). The tercets are connected internally.

Literary Devices

Creeley makes use of the following literary devices in ‘I Know a Man’.

  • Enjambment: It occurs across the text. The overall poem is enjambed beautifully, and it makes readers quickly go through the lines.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the pronoun “I” in the first stanza. It is meant for the sake of emphasis.
  • Metaphor: In the lines, “the darkness sur-/ rounds us,” Creeley uses this device. Here, the “darkness” is compared to worldly desires, a self-centric attitude, and, most importantly, ignorance.
  • Caesura: Creeley makes use of metrical pauses by including a number of punctuations throughout the text. For instance, the usage of this device in the third stanza implicitly hints at the mental state of the speaker.


What is the poem ‘I Know a Man’ about?

Robert Creeley’s poem ‘I Know a Man’ presents a conversation between two individuals. One of them was concerned about the spiritual darkness of humankind. He tried to find an answer even though he was totally unaware of the problem.

When was ‘I Know a Man’ published?

The poem was first published in 1991. It appeared in Robert Creeley’s collection of poetry, Selected Poems of Robert Creeley.

What type of poem is ‘I Know a Man’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem. The text is written in tercet form. There is no specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Besides, the poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker.

What are the themes used in ‘I Know a Man’?

This piece taps on a number of themes that include materialism, spiritual blindness, consumerism, and escapism. The main idea of the poem revolves around a modern man’s struggle with the growing darkness inside his mind.

Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that tap on similar themes present in Robert Creeley’s ‘I Know a Man’. Explore more Robert Creeley poems.

You can also explore these incredible poems about darkness.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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