For Love: Poems 1950-1960

by Robert Creeley
(1962)
   For Love, robert creeley’s first volume of collected poems, is widely accepted as one of his finest. Divided into three sections, 1950–1955, 1956–1958, and 1959–1960, the poems trace a tumultuous period of the poet’s life—from marital turmoil with his first wife, their separation and divorce, to love’s reentrance upon meeting and marrying his second wife. Alternately tender and tragic, the poems represent, as Cynthia Edleberg argues in Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction, the poet’s determination to understand love while mapping its confusing terrain. In addition, as Arthur L. Ford suggests in his analysis of For Love, Creeley also struggles to negotiate the sometimes conflicting goals of marriage and the life of a poet.
   The poems in Part 1, the most cynical of the volume, were written during the disintegration of Creeley’s first marriage. Opening with “Hart Crane,” and “Le Fou” for charles olson, Creeley establishes himself in the company of accomplished poets, while also adding ideas of friendship and profession to his thoughts on love. But the third and fourth poems, “A Song,” and “The Crisis,” establish what is to be the volume’s major theme: mapping the love of man and woman, husband and wife, and what feels now like a song, then like a crisis. His growing disillusionment with love and emotion become apparent in such poems as “The Immoral Proposition” where the poet decides that “If you never do anything for anyone else / you are spared the tragedy of human relation- / ships.” In “The Operation” he calls love and marriage “just an old / habitual relationship” and even compares the two in “The Business” to a barter, “a remote chance on / which you stake / yourself.” Parts 2 and 3 trace the final disintegration of Creeley’s first marriage and his love and remarriage to his second wife. Thus, as Edleberg points out, the poet executes the tricky maneuver of transferring his love from one woman to another, augmenting his theme of love’s elusiveness. In “Love Comes Quietly,” that transfer appears complete:
   Love comes quietly,
   finally, drops
   about me, on me,
   in the old ways.
   What did I know
   thinking myself
   able to go
   alone all the way.
   Here, though “finally” implies relief and “drops / about me, on me, / in the old ways” retreats to ambiguity, Creeley understands love’s necessity in his life, with all its vagaries and misunderstandings. The final and title poem in For Love seems to sum up Creeley’s explorations. He concludes that love changes from day to day, moment to moment, and despite “tedium” and “despair” and the desire “to / turn away, endlessly / to turn away,” everything the poet knows “derives / from what it teaches me.” Thus, even without a definitive answer, “into the company of love/ it all returns,” for good, for bad, for love.
 Bibliography
■ Edleberg, Cynthia. Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978.
■ Faas, Ekbert, and Maria Trombacco. Robert Creeley: A Biography. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.
■ Ford, Arthur L. Robert Creeley. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
   Jennifer Cooper

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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