Bly’s poem “Fifty Males Sitting Together,” first published in The Man in the Black Coat Turns (1981), embodies a theme that occupied him throughout most of the 1980’s and beyond: the significance and inadequacies of being male in Western culture. In a preface to The Man in the Black Coat Turns, Bly claims that in its poems he had “fished in male waters, which [he] experienced as deep and cold but containing and nourishing some secret and moving life down below.” Bly’s concern with maleness stems from his anthropological study of the Great Mother. It is Bly’s contention that for the first forty thousand years or so of human existence, humans lived primarily in matriarchal cultures in which women retained the bulk of social, political, and religious power. These primitive cultures worshiped the Great Mother, symbol of the forces in nature and of life itself.
According to Bly, recorded history began when men began to fight against the Great Mother, asserting their superiority instead, the superiority of masculine thinking (logic and reason) over more natural (even more divine) patterns. This movement away from the Great Mother has left humans detached from nature, unsure of their strength, and intensely alone.
How this historical process manifests itself in modern life has preoccupied Bly since early in his career. He writes often of the male’s relationship to the father, writing of it in terms of frustration,...
(The entire section is 581 words.)