Robert Creeley’s “Do You Think That”

I haven’t found nearly as many poems that I liked in the middle section of Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems as I did in the early section. That’s probably partially due to the fact that I generally prefer short, lyrical poems to longer poems. But it’s also due to a shift in focus. Some of the these poems tend to be more “philosophical,” and thus more ambiguous. There’s also an increased number of “romantic,” i.e. “love” poems, and while they might well be the most popular of his poems, they aren’t my favorites.

That said, I did like the rather meditative:


Do you think that if
you once do what you want
to do you will want not to do it.

Do you think that if
there’s an apple on the table
and somebody eats it, it
won’t be there anymore.

Do you think that if
two people are in love with one another,
one or the other has got to be
less in love than the other at
some point in the otherwise happy relationship.

Do you think that if
you once took a breath, you’re by
that committed to taking the next one
and so on until the very process of
breathing’s an endlessly expanding need
almost of its own necessity forever.

Do you think that if
no one knows then whatever
it is, no one will know and
that will be the case, like
they say, for an indefinite
period of time if such time
can have a qualification of such time.

Do you know anyone
really. Have you been, really,
much alone. Are you lonely,
now for example. Does anything
really matter to you, really, or
has anything mattered. Does each
thing tend to be there, and then not
to be there, just as if that were it.

Do you think that if
I said, I love you, or anyone
said it, or you did. Do you
think that if you had all
such decisions to make and could
make them. Do you think that
if you did. That you really
would have to think it all into
reality, that world, each time, new.

Perhaps I’m simply more drawn to the structure of this poem than some of the others, with the Whitmanesque repetition of “Do you think that if.” Though at first I found it rather jarring that Creeley left the question mark out of all the questions, by the end of the poem I rather enjoyed it, as if somehow questions and answers were synonymous. I also appreciated the fact that each stanza grew by one line as the questions he asked became more and more complicated.

Although the questions in the first three stanzas seem to have relatively straight-forward answers, the later questions become harder and harder to answer, until we’re left to question the very things that seem the most important to us. What is knowable? Is love forever, or do we constantly have to “think it all into reality … each time, new”?

In other words, the poem does a good job of making us question all those things that we take for granted until we are forced to see them anew.

This section ends with a very different poem:


One day after another –
They all fit.

Somehow after all the long poems, after all the questions raised, it seemed the perfect place for a very different assertion – even if it’s very likely not true.

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