Themes and Meanings

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As the title For Love indicates, many of the poems in Creeley’s first collection were written in an attempt to understand, express, or locate love in a world of confusion, threat, and loneliness. The poem “A Form of Women” is part of a larger context—not an interlocked poetic sequence, but a group of poems that cast light on one another and that move from an elliptical anger toward a more relaxed lyricism. As critic Robert Kern points out, the “quest” of the book is toward a sense of grace, which Creeley has powerfully evoked in the later poem “Oh Love” (from Mirrors, 1983): “Oh love,/ like nothing else on earth!” The lyrics toward the end of For Love are “grateful celebrations” of “love and domestic conditions,” but “A Form of Women,” at the center of the collection, is more of a projection of those possibilities.

The transformative power of love is conveyed by the seventh stanza, in which the poet speaks of the most personal qualities (face, hands, mouth) as no longer sufficient to define the self. Those features which are still “his own” cannot encompass the full range of consciousness, since the relationship with another has added the weight of “a thousand years” to his features. The poet’s recognition of this power leads to a faith in its capacity to transcend the abstractions of existence, to make the physical presence of another an actuality as a means of fulfillment. The inability of “hands unreasonable” to touch, however, remains a source of pain. The struggle between the promise of love, already experienced to some extent, and the frustrations of the particular relationship in which the poet is involved fills the poem with a tension that is also a part of the fascination which love offers. The poet’s questions, epitomized by the universal “Do you love me” of the final stanza, convey both the uncertainty and necessity bound together, inseparable and inescapable. The poet’s attempts to explain to himself why he wanted “very much to/ touch you/ but could not” are at the heart of the mystery.

The exploratory nature of “The Form of Women” is evidence of the poet’s realization that he must confront his own psychic uncertainty before he can expect to enrich a relationship. Because it is written entirely as a reflection of the “I” who has “thought,” “watched,” and “wanted” but has been unable “to touch,” it is an act of love in language. It holds an optimistic conclusion—that imagination can resist the terrifying “stench” of the darkness from which the poet recoils. An underlying yearning for a more complete commitment than the poet is able to make, based on the necessity of becoming more comfortable with the self before it can be extended to another, is expressed in the paradox that the self can be really understood only through the love of another. Thus the recognition that “I love you” provides the strength for him to ask “Do you love me,” mingling tentative hope with its accompanying, continuing uncertainty as the poem closes.

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