Robert Creeley, "Help Heaven"

I think attention should be paid to how well Creeley uses phrases on the edge of cliche.

Robert Creeley, "Help Heaven"

Welcome! A few things to share with you

The first thing I want to share is depressing but necessary. A lot of people we know have gotten addicted to asking what good government is if it doesn't benefit them immediately in exactly the way they expect. I think it's worth thinking through what terrible, criminal government is. Christopher Mathias of HuffPost spent time in Brevard County, Florida, where he found that the Capitol rioters who came from there were inspired by the style of "politics" employed by those in charge. Public officials who are to execute the law are themselves lawless, continually bullying and intimidating the population.

The second thing I want to share is also depressing and necessary. I believe most people would say terrorism forces a state to take extralegal measures in order to calm an emergency. The problem with this reasoning is that it eventually becomes impossible to hold the state accountable for anything. At some point a while back, I started thinking that the response to terrorism actually has to involve more lawfulness, more doing things by the book, because it has to be shown our way works. Guantanamo Bay is a human-rights disaster, and I can't forget that then and probably future President Trump wanted to send people with COVID there.

Below, I've written on Robert Creeley's "Help Heaven." I thought it was really beautiful. I don't think I've seen many poems create such a powerful sense of comfort with so few words.

Robert Creeley, "Help Heaven"

Robert Creeley's "Help Heaven" conjures an immediate sense of warmth. Those of us pulling blankets closer to ourselves on winter days know it. So do those staying indoors because of the pandemic. For us, the warmth is usually accompanied by reverie and forgetfulness. It's not always a good thing, as we might sleep in too much, perhaps forgetting what we've set out to do. For Creeley, though, the warmth is tied to "be[ing] here at all now." It is lovely to simply experience existence, he voices in three lines:  "so deep and soft / lovely it feels to / be here at all now."

Help Heaven (h/t Tom Snarsky)
Robert Creeley

Help heaven up out
of nothing before it
so deep and soft
lovely it feels to
be here at all now.

I don't believe "Help Heaven" is in the Selected Poems (University of California Press, 1991). Nonetheless, I think attention should be paid to how well Creeley uses phrases on the edge of cliche. "Up out" is everyday speech for describing pulling something up and then out. The same idea is at work in this poem, but by putting "up out" at the end of the first line, "Help heaven up out," he pushes us to confront two adverbs jammed up against each other. They may not describe two separate actions—a movement up, then out—as much as point at a greater mystery. It's hard to say, but "Help heaven up out / of nothing before it" speaks to Creation ex nihilo. The concepts of direction and movement are themeselves doubtful when considering that theme.

"So deep and soft," likewise, could be from a commercial for fabric softener. Because of that, it is recognizable, helping make a tough question more accessible. Is it possible to luxuriate in simply being? When we sleep in, wanting more warmth, is that the bliss of being?


"Being" is a loaded word. It encompasses a range of philosophical questions, e.g. "Why is there anything at all?," "What truly constitutes substances and phenomena?", and "What does it mean to exist?" Creeley's poem takes such strands and juxtaposes them with the all-too-relatable sentiment of "Leave me alone, I'm gonna sleep in for an extra hour." An attitude related to this, which I believe is a serious problem in an America where people with power continually dodge responsibility: "If everyone left me alone, I'd be happy."

"Being" has a traditional explication. The thinkers of antiquity and the Middle Ages crafted an understanding like the following. You are truly yourself when you fulfill your nature. —Not "destiny," though that implication cannot be rejected.— You build good habits, you practice virtues, you think through situations in order to live out your values, and you are. You are neither more nor less. "Being" cannot be divorced from being a social animal.

This isn't to say one couldn't choose some degree of solitude. The same thinkers declaring humanity fundamentally social spent plenty of time away from people in order to write. But happiness is probably not best characterized by isolation or hedonism. In "The Ethics of Ambiguity,"  Simone de Beauvoir describes Sartre's existentialism as being for the world, not avoiding it:

Sartre, in Being and Nothingness, fundamentally defined man, that being whose being is not to be, that subjectivity which realizes itself only as a presence in the world, that engaged freedom, that surging of the for-oneself which is immediately given for others.

Note "that engaged freedom" as contrasting with "leave me alone." Or the "surging of the for-oneself... immediately given for others," which does not entail avoiding hard choices or sacrifice. There is a profound choice to be made as an individual, alone, connected with this. Not much later, de Beauvoir tells us of Sartre's definition of a human. "a being who makes himself a lack of being in order that there might be being." How you choose to be—that's up to you. It means you can't choose everything, you can't be everything to everyone, not even yourself. But you must make a choice.


Is choice the right theme to bring to Creeley's little poem? On the one hand, no. There's a "lovely" moment, "so deep and soft," where we're just happy "to /  be here at all now." Let's just enjoy this heaven while it lasts.

On the other, the poem dares its readers to "Help heaven." "Help heaven up out / of nothing before it." As if heaven were stuck in nothingness, as if it can't be differentiated from nothingness. It might be lost in something else "so soft and deep" that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to pull away from. As for us, we are. We know how we feel, we know when we are. It isn't clear why we should bother with heaven.

That's the challenge, right? To take that feeling of intense happiness we've got at times and extend it. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking of a mythical idea of heaven, but just heaven as the sky. Over everything, empty, waiting to be filled. In that case, I should consider a happiness not predicated on late mornings, but a morning where the same feeling could be had a different way. Doing the same over and over to druglike effect, after all, isn't typically considered doing anything.