Creeley’s “Greendoon’s Song”

it’s the greyness said greendoon

bids the several of our clan

seek forever for a man

to put music in our tune


it’s the brownness turns the leaf

sets us searching while we can

up and down the stranger land

for a single honest thief


it’s the blackness of our grief

brings us back into the room

puts the lock into our hand


“Greendoon’s song” is a strange poem, more like a song than a poem in its apparent simplicity and its refrain of “it’s the greyness,” “it’s the brownness” and “it’s the blackness.”  These color variations correspond with different existential states, all which have to do with desire, longing, and grief.  Although it’s unclear who “Greendoon” is, it seems safe to hazard the guess that he is some kind of mythical creature or hero, a singing Pan, although the sing-songy naturalness of the poem’s images and diction (leaves, music, tunes) alternate with a bleakness and a sudden brusqueness at the poem’s end.  What is unclear is what the phrase “it’s the greyness,” for example, is a response to, although one can imagine various questions, such as, “what aspects of the landscape elicit a longing?” or “what colors of the painting do you notice, and how do they make you feel?”  To which the speaker responds, “it’s the greyness.”  Greyness connotes depression, vagueness, even a kind of boredom, which seems apt, as this greyness compels “the several of our clan” to seek an almost religious way out of the greyness, a way to fill or change it with music.  This stanza might be paraphrased as, “It’s the depressing aspects of our lives that make us reach for transcendence, desire music, long for someone to lift us out of our doldrums and into an atmosphere of less suffering.” 

But life is not only depressing, but happens in a natural world, perhaps what the “brownness” might stand for.  “It’s the brownness turns the leaf,” Creeley writes, in a typically elliptical and compressed phrase, yet the naturalness of the world that turns leaves brown and brings on winter does not comfort us, but rather sends us out into the “stranger land” “searching…for a single honest thief,” the implication being that we are all thieves – that thievery or deception is a fundamental ontological property of human beings – and hence the impossibility of finding “a single honest thief,” even though we try our best. 

The third stanza, with one line shorter, is a break from the first two, and seems to serve suggestively as an answer or a response to what happens to our desire, our longing.  We search, only to return to the room we left from, full of a grief that “puts the lock into our hand.”  This last line is bewilderingly packed; it seems to suggest a willful imprisonment, or a willful liberation, depending on how you read it.  Yet because the line ends so abruptly, and has only three lines in the stanza compared to the other two stanzas’ four, I’m inclined to read the lock as a kind of shocking reminder of responsibility that comes too late in the game to make a difference.  Creeley seems to be touching some very intense aspects of our dreams, desires and grievances, and yet the final line seems to simultaneously mock these things ironically – “all the while you have complained, you’ve been holding the lock” – while at the same time evincing a desire for more control over them – “all the while you have complained, it’s been you holding the lock.”



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