What Have I Ever Lost by Dying Summary

Robert Bly

What Have I Ever Lost by Dying

This collection of prose poems by Robert Bly — poet, translator and author of the best-selling IRON JOHN — is drawn from those he has written during the past thirty years. The poems are organized into five sections, including “The Point Reyes Poems,” “Family Poems,” “Objects and Creatures Glanced at Briefly,” “Love Poems,” and “Looking for the Rat’s Hole.” In “The Dead Seal,” from “The Point Reyes Poems,” as if offering a shamanlike prayer, Bly praises the seal’s whiskers, smooth skin, and slanted eyes and asks the seal to “Be comfortable in death . . . “ as it had been comfortable living in the ocean. The poems in “Objects and Creatures Glanced at Briefly,” recall ODAS ELEMENTALES (ODES TO SIMPLE THINGS) by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Bly examines, among other things, an oyster, a potato, a caterpillar, and a grain of rice and gives his impressions of their simple existence.

The poet often expresses delight in the delicate fabric and grain of nature. He sees the “balanced, disciplined airy . . . rows of feathers,” on a bird that has landed on his porch (“Slate Junco.”) In “Grass from Two Years,” Bly announces Whitman-like, “Whatever I am . . . if the great hawks come to look for/ me, I will be here in this grass.” These are not melancholy musings but rather inspired meditations. His search for meaning in the mundane and the everyday shows just how wonderfully unpredictable and unfathomable even, existence ultimately is. This collection is further evidence of Bly’s talent for presenting, in the simplest language, the richness and complexity of the universe around us.