Robert Bly Essay - Bly, Robert (Vol. 2)

Bly, Robert (Vol. 2)

Bly, Robert 1926–

A Midwestern American poet and publisher, Bly directs the Seventies Press and has been responsible for introducing many South American writers to a North American audience. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[Bly] is a poet of Western space, solitude, and silence. He writes poems about driving a car through Ohio, hunting pheasants, watering a horse, getting up early in the morning, and watching Minnesota cornfields, lakes, and woods under the siege of rain, snow, and sun. His distinction in treating these subjects lies in the freshness of his "deep images," which invest the scene he describes with an intense subjectivity and a feeling of the irremediable loneliness of man, who can never make contact with the things of the world….

Robert Bly's theory and practice cohere. His poetic voice is clear, quiet, and appealing, and it has the resonance that only powerful pressures at great depths can provide.

Stephen Stepanchev, "Robert Bly," in his American Poetry Since 1945 (copyright © 1965 by Stephen Stepanchev; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1965, pp. 185-87.

The Light Around the Body is an ambitious and sophisticated book, but over-studied, too much intent on giving jolts that are purely aesthetic….

Bly's committed poems … deal humanely, poetically, with immediate concerns of the nation—poverty, the Vietnam War. Under this pressure, even his surrealism leaves affectation behind, and the longer lines have an authority lacking in other poems….

[In] his bad poems he says what he believes people want him to have said 100 years from now.

Martin Dodsworth, "Towards the Baseball Poem," in The Listener, June 27, 1968.

In Bly's poems I am always conscious of an arranging intelligence.

Bly's ideas are clear. It is his method that is extraordinary…. He has developed his own landscapes, inhabited by murdered Indians and Vietnamese; visions in which moles are significant and shop windows are filled with terrifying objects…. What is true of surrealists in general is true also of Bly; his poems are moving when they are moved by a central flow, one feeling which holds all the parts together….

Bly is one of the few poets in America from whom greatness can be expected. He has original talent, and what is more rare, integrity. I think he should forget about images for a while and concentrate on music, the way things move together.

Louis Simpson, "New Books of Poems," in Harper's (copyright © 1968, by Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co., Inc.; reprinted from the August, 1968 issue of Harper's Magazine by permission of the author), August, 1968, pp. 73-7.

In his first book, Silence in the Snowy Fields, [Robert] Bly is revealed as essentially a pastoral poet, a quietist, mystical, contemplative, and solitary. He has the religious man's awe in the presence of a nature which is vast, uncluttered, and beyond the straining ego; he frequently stands watching the landscape as the light wanes or snow falls, listening to sounds and silences. Few people intrude upon the poet's reveries; he prefers the company of birds and inanimate objects: old boards, stones, animal tracks, growing corn, barns. This appreciation of the still and the small is mirrored in the clean sparseness of the verse. Long before the Vietnam War, Bly, like Virgil, preferred the peace and isolation, the simple life, of the country to the noisy corruptions and sophisticated diversions of the city. Yet even in Silence in the Snowy Fields, anxiety gnaws at the fringes of his serenity. Death, violence, and worldly sins—and Bly has something of a Puritan rigor about him—invade his hermitage on the Minnesota farm…. But his pleasure in observing the generative power of nature, in savoring his own self-reliance, and in sharing an occasional impetuous experience with wife and friends, gives him a joyful if reticent faith that the light will rise and cancel out the darkness. The poet is firmly in his own poems, possessing himself, not "asleep in the outward man."

This faith is lost in The Light Around the Body. Bly is unhinged by the cruelties inflicted on the Vietnamese people by America's military arsenal and moral indifference. His mind is haunted by images of ruin, waste, fallen houses, burnt bodies. America is lost or landlocked in a snowstorm, "not knowing which world it is in." A man of moral absolutes, Bly exempts no one from the collective guilt. We are all "captured by the spirit of the outward world," to quote Jacob Boehme, who supplies most of the book's epigraphs, lying in our dungeons reduced to behaviorist specimens—our minds without conscience, our acts without grief or reflection, our dismemberment without healing. Consequently, there is no forgiveness for America, no mercy, no prayer….

Herbert Leibowitz, in Hudson Review, Autumn, 1968, pp. 554-57.

Bly … is one of the finest anti-war poets of these years, and in his The Teeth-Mother Naked At Last … he has reached a stage far in advance of most of the anti-war poets. [This] is because they are still basically anti-war poets for whom politics is a separate sphere that happens, this time, to have intruded on their private space. The war for them is a singular abomination to be dispelled, not a natural consequence of ordinary American political structure and life. As a result they are stalled in moral indignation toward a war part of whose ugliness lies in its incomprehensibility.

Bly's poem is the first I've seen from an established American poet which traces the war back to the home front; which makes, in other words, a political analysis….

Bly needs to be clearer about the function of consumerism in advanced capitalism, capitalism's need for overseas expansion and therefore imperial war, the relation between technology and the corporate state, etc. But at least he is probing for domestic causes, refusing to pass off the war as something epiphenomenal, and he is in the right neighborhood of ideas.

Todd Gitlin, "The Return of Political Poetry," in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), July 23, 1971, pp. 375-80.

The late 20th century converges on Robert Bly from every side. In Sleepers Joining Hands …, there is a seething cauldron of ecological devastation, genocide in Vietnam, Consciousness III, the long shadow of the Indian wars, the changing roles of the sexes. He is peculiarly the seer both of the present moment and the possible future….

Alive and terrifying as this poetic vision is, in some ways it is surpassed by the long prose section which adduces vast amounts of anthropological evidence to prove that all societies were originally matriarchal, and that the Great Mother (including the castrating type, the Teeth Mother) is reemerging into the consciousness of Western man after being suppressed for millennia.

Chad Walsh, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), April 1, 1973, p. 13.