Night Themes (Robert Bly)

Robert Bly

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The form of the poem, as discussed earlier, leads the reader to its meaning. The poem suggests the obvious truth that human beings often want to ignore: Life leads to death as inevitably as day leads to night. Despite the downward movement within each stanza, however, Bly also seems to suggest that joy need not be forgotten simply because decline is inevitable.

Bly risks using the pathetic fallacy—providing nature with human traits—in order to remove the boundaries that normally exist between the natural world and the human one. The risk lies in the believability of the image: Do plants really sleep? Can trees feel joy? Do trees actually obey anything, since obedience implies will? Bly would like to remove this world of reason because he sees in it the basis for human alienation from the environment. In Bly’s world, one enters a mythic landscape before the fall, in which the human and the natural elements are one.

The poem resists a totally depressing reading as a result of this use of the pathetic fallacy. If the trees and plants are like humans, why cannot humans be like them? The trees are full of joy, at least in Bly’s eyes, even though their death is inevitable. The earth that gives them life is also the earth that will accept them in death. The butterflies, emblematic of the spirit world, contain bits of earth or loam in their wings; their flight joins spirit and flesh, life and death. If the poem suggests that death is contained in life, the other side of the argument is also put forth: Life is contained in death. In another...

(The entire section is 639 words.)