“Where Will We Find Another Like Him? “ – Robert Bly (December 23rd, 1926 – November 21st, 2021)

American poet Robert Bly (1926-2021)

Where will we find another like him?

Tony Hoagland from The Village Troublemaker: Robert Bly and American Poetry in The American Poetry Review, September/October, 2011

The Pistachio Nut

God crouches at night over a single pistachio.
The vastness of the Wind River Range in Wyoming
Has no more grandeur than the waist of a child.

Haydn tells us that we’ve inherited a mansion
On one of the Georgia sea islands. Then the last
Note burns down the courthouse and all the records.

Everyone who presses down the strings with his own fingers
Is on his way to Heaven; the pain in the fingertips
Goes toward healing the crimes the hands have done.

Let’s give up the notion that great music is a way
Of praising human beings. It’s good to agree that one drop
Of ocean water holds all of Kierkegaard’s prayers.

When I hear the sitar give out the story of its life,
I know it is telling me how to behave-while kissing
The dear one’s feet, to weep over my wasted life.

Robert, this poem will soon be over; and you
Are like a twig trembling on the lip of the falls.
Like a note of music, you are about to become nothing.

Robert Bly from My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, Harper Collins, 2005

Where will we find another like him? I still do not have an answer to this question Tony Hoagland asked in the last line of  his long 2011 article/essay about Robert Bly. Robert Bly, who died at age ninety-four a week ago. And Robert as you predicted in your American ghazal above your twig was pulled under by the falls last week and you, as a body, have become nothing. Where your soul is, well that’s anybody’s guess! But what you have left behind, your recordings, your poems, your essays and non-fiction books, they prove the breadth of your creative genius that made you one of the great poetic voices of your time. That gave rise to Tony’s question.

(For my previous blog post on Robert  in 2012 please click here and for another in 2016 which explores the pyschological aspects of his poetry and the influence of the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung on him please click here.

Robert Bly, the American poet, translator, storyteller, essayist, cultural critic, and perhaps best-known outside of poetry circles as the author of the runaway bestseller, Iron John – A Book About Men, this book published in 1990 that turned him into the celebrity leader/founder of the so-called mythopoetic men’s movement. A book calling on men to start doing their inner work. Robert Bly, the poet and translator who translated into a fresh and contemporary english many great 20th Century poets like Rilke, Rumi, Neruda, Transtromer, Miribai and Kabir to name a few.

Robert Bly. And I repeat his name over and over as if that might bring something of the isness of this man alive on the page. Robert Bly, mischievous imp and worse, one of the darker and dangerous characters in fairy tales, withering social critic or as Hoagland calls him, rogue shaman. Robert Bly, proponent of the so-called deep image and Leaping Poetry. Robert Bly, the the often-leaping performer reciting poems on stages across the world wearing a trademark colourful cloak or vest.

Robert Bly, whom I first saw late one night in the late 1970’s on cable TV in a Denver, Colorado hotel room. He was reciting poems and discusssing poetics while walking outside in a forest. How he gobsmacked me even though I was cramped up in bed from food poisoning. How I felt his energy, the way his words seemed to come alive, translate into colours I could touch like the soap bubbles breathed into life by young children. How I saw a poetry that night that cared not so much for my head, my intellect, but much more for my heart.  It entered my blood and it’s there still. And so I grieve his passing. And in grieving I embrace what he so often embraced in his poems like this one belowe– grief and sorrow.

What Is Sorrow For?

What is sorrow for? It is a storehouse
Where we store wheat, barley, corn and tears.
We step to the door on a round stone,
And the storehouse feeds all the birds of sorrow.
And I say to myself: Will you have
Sorrow at last? Go on, be cheerful in autumn,
Be stoic, yes, be tranquil, calm;
Or in the valley of sorrows spread your wings.

Robert Bly, from Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey, Norton, 2011

I so appreciate this poem that says do not run from your sorrows. Embrace them. They can transform you, give you unexpected wings.  And my sorrow at Robert’s death after he had been living quietly for a number of years with dementia, may it, in its own way, become a blessing.

And now below here is my first blog post on Robert from 2012.

An Alphabet of Poets – B is for Bly – April 3rd, 2012

To celebrate National Poetry Month I am featuring a new poet for each day of April. I will be at my abecedarian best and go through the alphabet from a to z, followed by 4 random choices!


The Roof Nail

A hundred boats are still looking for shore.
There is more in my hopes than I imagined.
The tiny roof nail lies on the ground, aching for the roof.
Some little bone in our foot is longing for heaven.

Robert Bly from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Norton, 2011

 Too outspoken to ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature. That’s what a friend said to me a few months ago about Robert Bly.  True, perhaps. And what my friend said about Bly and the Nobel Prize could equally apply to Bly as a potential candidate for the appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate.  But his outspoken, iconoclastic nature is no reason to ignore this extraordinary American poet, writer of socio-psychological best sellers including Iron John and The Sibling Society, social and anti-war activist, public intellectual, translator and leader of the so-called expressive men’s movement. 

Bly’s influence on poetry in the English-speaking world during the last half of the 20th C  has been unparalleled. Not only did he shake up the US poetry scene with his magazines, The Fifties, The Sixties and The Seventies but he has been a leader in translating some of the world’s great international poets (including Rilke, Neruda, Rumi, Hafez, Machado, Lorca) into English, a number of whom have gone on to win the Nobel prize, including, most recently, Tomas Transtromer. And Rumi, the great 13th Century Sufi poet, and now one of the best-selling poets in North America owes much of his popularity to Bly who encouraged Rumi’s most prolific translator, Coleman Barks, to take on that task back in 1976.

Whatever you call Bly, a cultural Jeremiah, a rogue shaman, a querulous ecstatic or a combative public intellectual  his poems and writings always are a poke in the eye of power and spiritual complacency.  Bly’s poems defy easy definitions but even at their simplest they have a mysterious, surreal quality soaked in a spiritual sensitivity as illustrated in his recent poem The Roof Nail. which also illustrates his use of the so-called “deep image”.

In a essay in the American Poetry Review (APR) last year just before Bly’s 85th birthday, Tony Hoagland quotes Bly: “When a poet creates a true image he is gaining knowledge; he is bringing into consciousness a connection that has been forgotten, perhaps for centuries.
Bly has been deeply influenced by other poetic traditions ((Spanish, Sufi, Persian, Arabian and Indian) which freely use ecstatic, imagistic leaps. In particular Bly has specialized an Americanized version of the Persian ghazal form. Here are two wonderful examples from his latest book published last year, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey:

Longing For The Acrobat

There is so much sweetness in the children’s voices,
And so much discontent at the end of the day,
And so much satisfaction when a train goes by.

I don’t know why the rooster keeps on crying,
Nor why the elephant lifts his knobby trunk,
Nor why Hawthorne kept hearing trains at night.

A handsome child is a gift from God,
And a friend is a vein in the back of the hand,
And a wound is an inheritance from the wind.

Some say we are living at the end of time,
But I believe a thousand pagan ministers
Will arrive tomorrow to baptize the wind.

There’s nothing we need to do about Saint John.
Whenever he laid his hands on earth
The well water was sweet for a hundred miles.

Everywhere people are longing for a deeper life.
Let’s hope some acrobat will come by
And give us a hint how to get into heaven.


Nirmala’s Music

The music that Nirmala is playing today goes
By two names: The One who Finds Lost Things,
And the One Through Whom Everything is Lost.

Tigers go on eating people in the Forest
Of Existence. The God’s agree to this. Saints
Admire whiskers that have been dipped in blood.


Women with their newly washed hair, the souls
Born again and again into sleek, fresh bodies,
Boards leaning against a barn…what doe sit all mean?

Men think ahead, and are mainly providential.
They laid our Egypt. But I like women so much.
They say: “Let the lambs come and be killed.”

And women suffer the most. Between every child born,
So many rugs are woven and taken apart. The water
Of a hundred bowls is poured out on the ground.

The hungry tigers follow the disappearing dogs
Into the woods of life. Women understand this,
For this is a world in which everything is lost.

These late poems characterize so well what Hoagland states: Bly’s own late work still insists upon the actuality of the transcendental and the central importance of what Keats called soul-making.”

Last words to Hoagland who says this in his conclusion to his APR essay:
In his lifetime Robert Bly has introduced more energy, ideas, and technique into American poetry than can be measured. In a different America, or in an era in which politics, art and spirituality were not segregated, Bly would have been a natural pick for poet laureate…”




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