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What does the poem, "Prayer for My Father," by Robert Bly, mean? In other words, what...

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dcjo | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

Posted January 2, 2011 at 3:54 AM via web

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What does the poem, "Prayer for My Father," by Robert Bly, mean? In other words, what would be the interpretation of it?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 2, 2011 at 5:57 AM (Answer #1)

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In Robert Bly's poem, "Prayer for My Father," I believe that the author is speaking of his father, and his impending death.

The line, "Your head is still / restless, rolling / east and west," describes his father's head moving right to left, perhaps on his pillow.

Bly then begins an extended metaphor in comparing his father to an old hawk.

 

That body in you / insisting on living / is the old hawk / for whom the world / darkens.
Bly tells his father that the "entity" living within him is an old hawk, and it is that which holds onto to life, as "the world darkens" or death approaches. For some reason, Bly goes on to say that if his father dies and the author is not there, there is justice in this. And Bly comments that this is all right. This section may at first seem a little ambiguous. It might be "that is just" refers to something that Bly might have done whereby he feels his father deserves to be free of his son in his final moments. However, Bly's next few lines provide the reader with illumination, a pivotal shift in the author's message.
That part of you cleaned / my bones more / than once.
This line is also part of the extended metaphor, pointing out that the "old hawk" in his father figuratively picked the meat off of his son's bones, and that it happened repeatedly. Now the reader might wonder if the "justice" Bly speaks of is really his own—that in his father's final moments, the son earns a reprieve of sorts from his sire's "talons" (sharp words). The metaphor continues: in the next few lines, Bly tells his dad that they will meet again, and that they are joined because the "young" hawk in his father resides within Bly as well. Perhaps this refers to who his father was before he became so "ferocious."
But I / will meet you / in the young hawk / whom I see / inside both / you and me;
The tone of the poem changes ever so subtly as Bly, in a sense, commends his father's spirit into the hands of the "Lord of Night," who-, or whatever he perceives it to be; and that finally, Bly's father will find a tenderness he could not find in this life.
...he / will guide / you to the Lord of Night, / who will give you / the tenderness / you wanted here.
Of course, this could mean that his father pushed others away with his "aggressive" behavior so that no one was able to get close enough to show him tenderness. Either way, the reader senses that Bly hopes his father may find himself in a place where tenderness is his lot: it sounds very much like "well-wishes" from son to father—perhaps a flag of truce.

 

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