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to have and not to hold

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I’m troubled by my continuing fixating on the one I love–the one who said she had to go, seventeen months ago. One of the poems we used to read to each other was To Have Without Holding by Marge Piercy.

At the time we boldly set a new course by giving ourselves to each other with hands wide open … the way you’d hold a bird after it has crashed into a window pane and you care for only until it is ready to fly again.

Here are the poems two middle stanzas: 

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

So, yes, it hurts to love wide open, to go against the reflexes of holding tight, fearing change and loss. What will it take to open my hand wide enough for memories to float freely, for the ache in my heart to subside? Old Teachers say that “you cannot let go of something you haven’t accepted.” What have I not yet accepted? 

Click here to read the entire poem.

5 responses »

  1. What an achingly beautiful poem –
    Your hands were open and the bird was ready to leave
    Leave them open – another bird may need their comfort

  2. If I may be so bold… What would happen if we were to shift the question just ever so slightly to “What have I yet to discover and then accept?” Maybe what keeps us is in our grief is not the pain we know we are holding but rather a pain we have yet to discover? Maybe grief is to be savored and invited with the same joy and appreciation as we love? (I ask these questions of me as I read about you)

    I thank you for the gift of Marge Piercy’s poem “To have without holding.” I have read two of her books — WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME and HE, SHE AND IT. I didn’t know that she wrote poetry as well. Now having gone to her website at, I see that she has written as many or more poems as she has novels.

  3. Be bold!

    I’m aware of RESISTING any “savouring” of grief and FEAR pain “yet to discover.” I also know that the path of awakening is through grief and fear and resistance, not around it.

    So what’s keeping me hanging on to stale old memories? There is, I confess, a certain sweetness in helplessness, a comfort in having been wronged. Go figure!

    Something will nudge and open my wounded heart, that’s what’s happened in the past anyway. thank you for your kind throughts, Terrill

  4. I rediscovered this Marge Piercy poem when I was not involved in a relationship. I was attracted to someone who wasn’t to me. The poem clarified for me how I would be able to love this person even if it would never be a one on one relationship. After I digested that knowledge, I have had a period of spiritual growth that I would have never anticipated from this situation. My favorite part of the poem is actually the final stanza:

    to have
    and not to hold, to love
    with minimized malice, hunger
    and anger moment by moment balanced.

    I have a part of me that still wallows in disappointment, but not unless I let it. I try to appreciate the friendship between us without attaching any hope to it. So instead of a limited (to one person) and limiting (not allowing for a new love to enter my life) love for this person, I have an open, universal love sparked by the unspoken love for this person which shows to people around me everyday.

    I focus on the good feelings instead of slipping back into the anger (oh, that is so easy to do) that I can’t have the person I want in my life. Don’t feel down on yourself as this process took several years to complete and it still takes effort on my part as I see this person several times a week.

    I think when someone special comes into our lives it seems so rare to be accepted that way. That is one of the reasons we have such angst when they go out of our lives. The other is the fear for me (and maybe you) is that we might never find a love of that quality again.

    I wish you the best in turning from the past to the future and getting excited about what lies ahead. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning!

  5. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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