Robert Elwood Bly first emerged as a singular voice among the young poets of the 1960’s who were both protesting America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and resisting the erudite, obscurantist tendencies of poetry writing that had been fostered by modernism. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, he became a leader in the so-called men’s movement, espousing a rediscovery by American males of ancient notions of masculinity.
The son of Jacob Thomas Bly and Alice Aws Bly, Bly grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota. After graduating from high school toward the end of World War II, he joined the United States Navy and, upon his discharge in 1946, enrolled in a premedical program at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. In 1947, Bly transferred to Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1956 and was awarded a Fulbright grant to visit Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English.
Bly, who had married Carolyn McLean in 1955, settled on a farm outside his native Madison, where, in 1958, he launched a literary magazine, The Fifties, subsequently published as The Sixties and The Seventies. He advocated an American poetry free of British influences and associated with the poetry of T. S. Eliot, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate. His own poetry, with its reliance on the resources of the unconscious and a surrealistic tone reminiscent of the contemporary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, re-created the quiet and solitude of life in rural Minnesota. His first single-authored collection, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was for many a welcome change of pace in a poetic landscape dominated by an often depressing urban...
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