The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Night,” written in free verse, is a short poem divided into four sections, each of which is four lines long. Like many of Robert Bly’s titles, “Night” appears to be a title without pretense or philosophical complexity; the poem is, however, richer in meaning than the title indicates. Night is a time for dreamlike thought, unmoored from the world of daylight’s reason and logic. Bly’s four sections offer four visions of night’s mysteries.

The poem is written in the first person, but it moves from a particular first-person-singular speaker—Bly himself—to a more generalized first-person plural. By writing in the first-person plural—“we”—the poet takes an enormous risk, because he appears to be speaking for all humanity. When a poet says “I,” the reader must believe the speaker. When a poet says “we,” thereby including the reader in his or her pronouncement, the reader may object to the statement or worldview.

The poem begins with what appears to be an extremely logical “if/then” proposition: “If I think of a horse,” then “I feel a joy.” Bly complicates the logic, however, by appending what appears to be an odd metaphor: If he thinks of a horse he feels joyful, as if he had thought of a pirate ship. The circular movement from thought to joy and then back to thought again is counteracted by the centrifugal force in the logic of the poem that jumps from the horse in a field to a pirate ship surrounded...

(The entire section is 587 words.)