Robert Bly Essay - Bly, Robert (Vol. 1)

Bly, Robert (Vol. 1)

Bly, Robert 1926–

Midwestern American poet and publisher, Bly is best known for The Light Around the Body. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Mr. Bly's poems … divide into poems of the inner and the outer. He does not deal with the relationship of one to the other, or not very often; usually, he writes of each separately and in opposite tones. His poems about present-day America, especially its political life, tend to be harsh and dissonant, and their sadness has a bitterly sharp edge, except for those dealing directly with the inhumanity of the Vietnam war, which are informed by deep compassion. The poems about the inner world, on the other hand, are slow-moving and quietly, intently, joyful; they do not wish to come to grips with experience, but rather to let it flow by, to see it without forcing it. Mr. Bly is trying to free his diction of all rhetorical trappings, whether they be of the long-established or the current orthodoxies, in order to write simply, to render "the light around the body," the feeling of the experience unencumbered by any literal setting. The approach is essentially mystical.

Lisel Mueller, in Shenandoah, Spring, 1968, p. 70.

The Light Around the Body is one of the most significant American volumes to be published in years…. Bly's vision, like Boehme's, comes from his discarding "those things that have felt this despair for so long"—the corrupt layers of things. It does not come from the serpentine coils of the confessional self. In Bly's poetry, a reader can never forget that there is an "I" who despairs. "Once more," he writes, "the heavy body mourns," or he says, "That is why these poems are so sad."…

The poetry that Robert Bly is writing now—as well as such poets as James Wright, Louis Simpson, and W. S. Merwin, for example—is poetry that has finally joined Whitman to a European tradition. It is a poetry which describes in the words of an article in Bly's own magazine The Sixties "new experiences and inner sensations for which there is no precedent in English poetry." Poets such as Bly find more in common not only with Rilke, Lorca, and Neruda, but with other European and Latin-American poets such as Georg Trakl; or Jimenez and Antonio Machado of Spain; and Enrique Gonzalez Martinez of Chile, Cesar Vallejo of Peru. In the works of these poets (many of whom Bly and others have translated in his magazine) the new American poets find the source for the truly "modern" poem, an intense, personal poem in which the subconscious and the unconscious are expressed. Furthermore, this intense personal poem is joined unashamedly with political content.

Harriet Zinnes, "Two Languages" (© 1968 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), in Prairie Schooner, Summer, 1968, pp. 176-78.