Whatever Creeley feels in his short poem “Love Comes Quietly” sounds amazing. It doesn’t sound anywhere near self-loathing or panic, anywhere near anger toward oneself or others. Instead, it seems to point at how love as acceptance is powerful and transformative, making gold from straw if one wants gold in the first place:
Love Comes Quietly (h/t Sara Judy) Robert Creeley 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.
What exactly is accepted, though, especially if we who consider ourselves serious are trying for continual self-improvement? Don’t we think of ourselves as changing? Creeley drops the mysterious phrase “in the old ways,” and I’ll return to that later. I believe it is easy enough to see this poem as celebrating his being a certain way, dedicated, at work of a certain sort.
I’m reading Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir Heart Berries, and for me those ideas of being a certain person, dedicating oneself to something, and working toward an end all merge in a thought of hers: “any power asks you to dedicate your life to its expansion.” These words are rooted in a struggle which it is difficult to do justice in a paragraph—you’re going to have to read her account. Still, I can say this. A life lived under oppression but also anchored in rich, soulful traditions is also a life where love can be experienced but not everything can be shared (and certainly not all shared at once). The power that asks for dedication and expansion asks you to transcend, but only a psychopath attempts to “transcend” without trying to see the value of everything around one. The power itself comes from those values and is a source of tension, pain, and regret. You never know if you’re doing the right thing regarding love, not because of the dismissive phrase “trust issues,” but because the very nature of love is trust. Am I really seeing what I’m seeing? Are my feelings going to actually help build something? Can I trust myself to see and feel properly?
It’s that notion of “power” which helps open Creeley’s poem. We do exert it, whether we like it or not, and it leads to a lot of the things from which Creeley feels relief. Love comes quietly, finally—he may not be in the best mood all the time, but there is no hint of rage or sorrow. Instead, it looks like he made a decision to love and be loving. [Love] drops about me, on me—in deciding to love, the world is seen differently, and he commits to living within that realization. Whatever he’s been doing, he will do, and that is love. We love when we know what we’re doing.
This could be seen as validation for anything, but I read his use of “in the old ways” to be ironic. Love comes quietly, finally, drops about me, on me, in the old ways. If he’s getting older, and the old ways are what he recognizes as a product of love, the old ways are making him young again. There is change in his life, but continuity within the change. Some values and efforts have persisted and are worthwhile. Others have disappeared.
“The old ways” do not speak to knowing everything once and for all or strict adherence to any kind of tradition. Witness what sounds initially like a lament: What did I know / thinking myself / able to go / alone all the way. The initial impression is that he admits his ignorance. The old ways departed and are only back because of love. There is an irony in these words, but it speaks to another issue. Alone, he realized the value of love. He did think himself, and because of this expanded himself. That, for a moment, he thought himself “alone all the way” was a mistake speaking to the power of thinking oneself. He almost fell into a harsh and bitter logic from which it is very difficult to escape. But it does seem that life and loneliness are typically embittering for people who don’t know how to share.