“Heroes” is a poem by Robert Creeley which first appeared in his 1960 collection For Love: Poems, 1950–1960, and was the republished in The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975. Although he had published his first collection a decade earlier, it was For Love which was brought Creeley his widespread recognition as a serious poet of significance. By the time his retrospective collection appeared another decade and a half later, his reputation as one of the most important American poets of the latter 20th century was firmly established.
The distance between the two publications featuring “Heroes” is the distance that can either endow a poet with sense and sensibility or expose him as a prejudiced to his own pride. “Heroes” is a poem that situates the “Poet” in a lineage tracing back to the legendary epic poet Virgil as the creator of verse that speaks to the greatness of humanity and its potential. “Heroes” is also a poem that specifically situates the “poet” Robert Creeley as the inheritor of that mantle. To place one’s own name into a poem that mentions Virgil and draw an analogy with the allusion between the two poets is sure to draw attention when you are a poet whose published work is barely known outside your own circle of acquaintances. With the first introduction to “Heroes” in a collection by a poet yet to truly make a breakthrough, such a decision could be interpreted as the hubris of the immature setting himself up for a fall if he fails to attain a career coincident with such a lofty display of self-esteem.
By the time the poem appeared in another publication bearing Creeley’s name, that attainment had been reached. Over the course of the period, Creeley had become an example of the hero he speaks of in the opening lines who has set for himself a breathtakingly difficult task and managed to come out on the other side having mastered them. The Robert Creeley who inserts himself by name into a poem extolling the need for heroes had been revealed himself to be worthy of the right; all hubris gone, the esteem in which he was held no longer confined to the self.