Robert Bly Bly, Robert - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Robert Bly 1926-

(Full name Robert Elwood Bly) American poet, translator, critic, essayist, and nonfiction writer. See also Robert Bly Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 5, 15, 128.

A charismatic literary impresario and social critic, Robert Bly is among the most prominent and influential American poets of the postwar generation. During the 1960s, he emerged as a leading proponent of “deep imagism,” a school of poetry distinguished by its preoccupation with surrealism, Jungian archetypes, and the elemental description of the natural world and visionary emotional states. His first two collections of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962) and The Light Around the Body (1967), an award-winning volume of antiwar poetry, established Bly as a major contemporary poet and passionate spokesperson for the healing powers of literature and myth. A popular guest on public television and at writing workshops, poetry readings, and men's gatherings, Bly is credited with rejuvenating public interest in poetry and the imaginative arts in late twentieth-century America. A prolific author of literary criticism, translations, anthologies, and numerous collections of acclaimed poetry, Bly published his best-selling book about male initiation Iron John in 1990, catapulting him to the forefront of the men's movement. His 1996 dissertation on America culture, The Sibling Society, also appealed to a broad mainstream audience.

Biographical Information

Born in rural Madison, Minnesota, Bly was raised on a nearby farm operated by his father. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. Discharged at the conclusion of World War II, he attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota for a year, and then transferred to Harvard University, where he earned a B.A. in English literature in 1950. While at Harvard, Bly served as editor of the Harvard Advocate, the campus literary magazine in which he published his first essays and poetry. After leaving Harvard, Bly lived and wrote in an isolated Minnesota cabin before relocating to New York City. There he worked menial jobs while concentrating on his writing and self-education in philosophy and foreign languages. He subsequently pursued graduate studies at the University of Iowa, earning an M.A. in creative writing in 1956. Bly married writer Carol McLean in 1955. The following year, he received a Fulbright grant to travel to Norway, his ancestral homeland, where he studied and translated Scandinavian poetry. Returning to the United States in 1957, he settled on a Minnesota farm and founded The Fifties, a literary magazine devoted to poetry and translation that rejected the formalism associated with T. S. Eliot and Allen Tate. The magazine was renamed The Sixties and The Seventies in the ensuing decades. With the publication of his first volume of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962), Bly received growing critical recognition. His second volume of poetry, The Light Around the Body (1967), won a National Book Award in 1968, one of many accolades his works garnered in this period. During the late 1960s, Bly became increasingly active in political and social causes. In 1966 he helped organize American Writers Against the Vietnam War, a protest group that conducted poetry “read-ins” on college campuses across the country. While living in Minnesota, Bly maintained a steady output of poetry over the next two decades, including the volumes Sleepers Joining Hands (1973), This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years (1979), The Man in the Black Coat Turns (1981), and Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1987). He also published translations of the poetry that influenced his own work, notably that of Rainer Maria Rilke, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, and the fifteenth-century Indian mystic Kabir. Bly divorced his first wife in 1979 and married Jungian analyst Ruth Counsell the following year. During the 1980s, Bly became interested in the psychological and spiritual rehabilitation of men, culminating in the 1990 publication of Iron John, the appearance of its companion videotape A Gathering of Men (1990), and a PBS interview that established him as a leading figure of the men's movement.

Major Works

Bly's “deep image” poetry is largely concerned with unconscious awareness, spiritual revelation, and solitary communion with the natural world. Reacting against the intellectualized academic verse of the 1950s, particularly in its emphasis on technical virtuosity and artifice, Bly sought to infuse contemporary American poetry with emotionalism and spontaneity achieved through free association and nonrational subjectivity. The “country poems” of Bly's first volume, Silence in the Snowy Fields, introduce the pastoral Midwest landscapes, surreal imagery, and direct, personal idiom of his subsequent work. As does much of his writing, many of these poems feature a moment of awestruck clarity in which the speaker revels in private harmony with the world. One of his best-known poems from this volume, “Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River,” relates the speaker's euphoric connectedness to the weathered Minnesota countryside while returning home at dusk. The Light Around the Body, a much different collection, marks Bly's attempts to merge the personal and public in his art, resulting in a new didacticism that became a prominent feature of his work. In these overtly political poems, Bly adopts a polemic tone to condemn U.S. foreign policy and military involvement in Vietnam. Poems such as “Listening to President Kennedy Lie About the Cuban Invasion” and “Hatred of Men with Black Hair” express Bly's psychic despair over betrayals of conscious associated with American imperialism and the degradation of war. His next major volume of poetry, Sleepers Joining Hands, also contains powerful references to the Vietnam War, notably in “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last.” Informed by his study of Jungian psychology, many of these poems express Bly's disdain for masculine elements of the subconscious associated with aggression, morality, and analytic reasoning. In “I Came Out of the Mother Naked,” an essay from this volume, Bly extols the virtues of the Great Mother culture that preceded patriarchal ascendancy in the ancient world. With This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years Bly revisits the bucolic settings and visionary transformations of Silence in the Snowy Fields. Focusing on the duality of consciousness, these poems embody Bly's effort to unite the inner and outer realms of experience, often resulting in a melancholy realization of emptiness and loss. In The Man in the Black Coat Turns, which includes several prose-poems, Bly turned his attention to father-son relationships, the primal bonds of parentage, and male sorrow, reflecting a return to masculine awareness and Bly's need to reconcile with his own alcoholic father. Loving a Woman in Two Worlds explores themes of love, intimacy, and the possibility of cosmic union in human relationships. Typical of his poetry, the meditative imagery of stars, water, trees, farms, and wildlife suggests a profound, hidden knowledge in all things. In the prose volume Iron John, an interpretive study of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same title, Bly presents his ideas about masculinity and the importance of folk tradition, mentoring, and ritual initiation for the healthy socialization of men. Drawing broadly upon insights from mythology, psychology, social science, and poetry, Bly contends that the modern “soft-male” is afflicted with self-destructive grief, anger, and passivity stemming from a lack of guidance from older men. Bly expands upon similar themes in The Sibling Society, a sociological treatise in which he links the decline of American culture, education, and civil discourse with a state of perpetual adolescence fostered by youth-oriented cultural values that encourage immediate gratification, self-centeredness, and disposable relationships. As in Iron John, Bly stresses the significance of intergenerational mentoring and underscores his message with wide-ranging anecdotes from myth, folklore, and psychology.

Critical Reception

Bly is widely recognized as a gifted poet, provocative social commentator, and captivating public speaker whose advocacy of spiritual introspection and creativity is responsible for a resurgence of popular interest in contemporary poetry. As a poet, he has been compared to Ezra Pound for his broad literary influence, and as a promoter and interpreter of world mythology, to Joseph Campbell. Though most acknowledge Bly's considerable intelligence and remarkable ability to convey the excitement of poetic expression to a general audience, critical evaluation of his own poetry has been mixed. While many praise the meditative simplicity, luminous imagery, and colloquial voice of Bly's verse, others find fault in his tendency toward sentimentality, banality, and empty exhortation. Most regard Silence in the Snowy Fields and The Light Around the Body as his most significant works, though he has also received critical approval for The Man in The Black Coat Turns, Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, and his Selected Poems (1986), which includes several new compositions and prefatory remarks. Attention to Bly's later poetic collections has generally been overshadowed by the enormous success of Iron John, which won him a mass readership and celebrity as a leading spokesman of the men's movement in America with its perceptive analysis of sexual identity and the demoralization of men in post-industrial society. Bly's subsequent nonfiction study, The Sibling Society, was likewise popularly praised. Nevertheless, several of Bly's slighter poetic collections, notably his Morning Poems (1997), have elicited the admiration of literary critics, who laud the reserved wisdom and insight of Bly's small-scale verse.

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)

The Lion's Tail and Eyes: Poems Written Out of Laziness and Silence [with William Duffy and James Wright] 1962

Silence in the Snowy Fields 1962

The Sea and the Honeycomb 1966

The Light Around the Body 1967

Ducks 1968

The Morning Glory: Another Thing That Will Never Be My Friend 1969

The Teeth Mother Naked at Last 1971

Water Under the Earth 1972

The Dead Seal Near McClure's Beach 1973

Jumping Out of Bed 1973

Sleepers Joining Hands 1973

Point Reyes Poems 1974

Old Man Rubbing His Eyes 1975

The Loon 1977

This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood 1977

This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years 1979

The Man in the Black Coat Turns 1981

Selected Poems 1986

Loving a Woman in Two Worlds 1987

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men [editor; with James Hillman and Michael Meade] 1992

What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?: Collected Prose Poems 1992

Morning Poems 1997

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems 1999

Snowbanks North of the House 1999

The Night Abraham Called to the Stars 2001

A Broadsheet against the New York Times Book Review (essays) 1961

*“Being a Lutheran Boy-God in Minnesota” (essays) 1976

Talking All Morning (interviews) 1980

The Eight Stages of Translation (nonfiction) 1983

Iron John: A Book about Men (nonfiction) 1990

The Sibling Society (nonfiction) 1996

*Published in Growing Up in Minnesota: Ten Writers Remember Their Childhoods.

Ralph J. Mills Jr. (review date 1963)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Mills, Ralph, J., Jr. “Four Voices in Recent American Poetry.” Christian Scholar 46, no. 4 (winter 1963): 324-45.

[In the following excerpted review of Silence in the Snowy Fields, Mills comments on the aim and style of Bly's poetry, seeing the work as a collection of purified and “concentrated understatement” allied to the world of nature rather than that of ideas.]

A volume of poems by Robert Bly has long been awaited, and Silence in the Snowy Fields proves that the waiting has not gone unrewarded. Mr. Bly, both as an editor of his journal The Sixties (formerly The Fifties) and as a practicing poet, has made a great effort...

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David Ray (review date 1963)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ray, David. Review of Silence in the Snowy Fields, by Robert Bly. Epoch 12, no. 3 (winter 1963): 186-88.

[In the following review of Silence in the Snowy Fields, Ray views Bly's poetry as a laconic, intense, and opinionated one that contrasts with the dominant mode of confessional verse and challenges readers' notions of reality.]

Robert Bly is one of the leading figures today in a revolt against rhetoric—a rebellion that is a taking up of the Imagist revolution betrayed, a reassertion of much of the good sense Pound brought to poetry—but also a movement which has in it much that is perfectly new. The new is found in a pure form in the work of...

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Norman Friedman (review date 1967)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Friedman, Norman. “The Wesleyan Poets—III: The Experimental Poets.” Chicago Review 19, no. 2 (1967): 52-73.

[In the following excerpted review, Friedman compares Bly's Silence in the Snowy Fields with the work of contemporary, experimental poets and observes the energetic, restless nature of Bly's verse while lamenting it as “too taut” and “too enclosed.”]

Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962) is characterized by sharp images, abrupt juxtapositions, loose rhythms, and natural diction. These poems are spoken by a man who is quizzically observant, deeply responsive, and restless and dissatisfied. Techniques and style, therefore, embody...

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Herbert Leibowitz (review date 1968)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Leibowitz, Herbert. Review of The Light Around the Body, by Robert Bly. Hudson Review 21, no. 3 (autumn 1968): 553-63.

[In the following excerpted review of The Light Around the Body, Leibowitz considers Bly a failed political poet.]

Who, in the midst of the awful, lunatic events of our times, has written political poetry that stands a chance of surviving both as effective political statement and great art? Neruda, certainly; Mayakovsky, Pasternak, and Voznesensky, among other Russian poets. American poets are conspicuously missing from any list we might draw up, for though a poetry of protest can be traced back at least as far as Whittier, who...

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Anthony Libby (essay date 1972)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Libby, Anthony. “Robert Bly Alive in Darkness.” Iowa Review 3, no. 3 (summer 1972): 78-91.

[In the following essay, Libby interprets Bly as a mystical poet, comparing the verses of the early collection Silence in the Snowy Fields with the more political poems of The Light Around the Body.]

Often self-consciously, poetry now reassumes its ancient forms. When at Antioch College in the autumn of 1970 Robert Bly began a reading with an American Indian peyote chant, he seemed merely to be accepting a hip convention almost expected by an audience accustomed to Ginsberg and Snyder. Bly chanted for the usual reason, “to lower the consciousness down, until...

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Joyce Carol Oates (review date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Oates, Joyce Carol. Review of Sleepers Joining Hands, by Robert Bly. Modern Poetry Studies 4, no. 3 (winter 1973): 341-44.

[In the following review of Sleepers Joining Hands, Oates praises Bly's “powerful,” “unified,” and prophetic collection.]

[Sleepers Joining Hands] is a remarkable collection of poems, in fact one of the most powerful books of any kind I have read recently. It is beautifully unified—the “sleepers of the world” do indeed join hands in Robert Bly's imagination—and it possesses the kind of internal development, the accumulation of dramatic tension, one usually associates with a single work, whether of poetry...

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Donald Hall (review date 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hall, Donald. “Notes on Robert Bly and Sleepers Joining Hands.Ohio Review 15, no. 1 (fall 1973): 89-93.

[In the following review, Hall offers a series of observations on Bly's poetry and particularly on the final section of Sleepers Joining Hands, which he calls “the best of Bly's work.”]

This is not a “review,” partly because transitions are fatuous; transitions and order translate “notes” into “review” or “article.” And partly because I have no objectivity. This poet has been my friend for twenty-five years.


Bly is the most systematic poet in the United States. Gary Snyder is...

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Charles Molesworth (essay date 1975)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Molesworth, Charles. “Thrashing the Depths: The Poetry of Robert Bly.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 29, nos. 3/4 (autumn 1975): 95-117.

[In the following essay, Molesworth surveys Bly's poetic style, ideas, influences, political poetry, pastorals, prose-poems, and finally his long, visionary work Sleepers Joining Hands.]


Since Silence in the Snowy Fields appeared over ten years ago, Robert Bly has steadily accumulated a poetry of secrecy and exultation, that most difficult of combinations. While excoriating the destructiveness of false public values, he insists on a silencing solitude as the primary...

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Alan Helms (review date 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Helms, Alan. Review of Sleepers Joining Hands, by Robert Bly. Partisan Review 44, no. 2 (1977): 284-93.

[In the following review of Sleepers Joining Hands, Helms judges Bly's forays into the Whitmanesque and the confessional mode of poetry to be lacking.]

The experience of reading Sleepers Joining Hands, Robert Bly's first large-press book since his National Book Award winning The Light Around The Body, is a bit like slogging your way through a violent storm.

The book begins in deceptive calm, with “Six Winter Privacy Poems”:


When I woke, new snow had fallen.
I am...

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Charles Molesworth (review date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Molesworth, Charles. Review of This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood, by Robert Bly. Georgia Review 32 (fall 1978): 683-88.

[In the following review, Molesworth favorably compares the prose-poems of Bly's This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood with those of the poet's earlier collection, The Morning Glory.]

Robert Bly's latest book [This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood] extends his vision beyond the ranges established in the prose-poems of The Morning Glory (1975). These newer poems are less thoroughly descriptive than those of the earlier volume, and also more directly ecstatic. As does Rilke, Bly sees the world...

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Robert Bly and Wayne Dodd (interview date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bly, Robert, and Wayne Dodd. “Robert Bly: An Interview by Wayne Dodd.” Ohio Review 19, no. 3 (fall 1978): 32-48.

[In the following interview, Dodd and Bly discuss the “domestication” and homogenization of contemporary American poetry.]

[Dodd:] I see a curious contradiction in contemporary poetry. On the one hand, there is the most incredible amount of poetic activity going on. On the other hand, there is evidence of a real absence of sureness of direction and even purpose. This uncertainty is reflected even in such things as a call recently by a literary magazine for people to comment on what is to be the role of, say, form, or content, in...

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Charles Molesworth (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Molesworth, Charles. “Domesticating the Sublime in Bly's Latest Poems.” Ohio Review 19, no. 3 (fall 1978): 56-66.

[In the following essay, Molesworth studies Bly's This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood as a poetic challenge filled with “pastoral delight” and suffused with the religiosity that Bly confers on bodies and bodily sensation.]

For more than fifteen years now, Robert Bly has been an unignorable presence in American poetry. In some ways his career has been marked by one peak after another. The sudden impact of his first book, the protest speech at the National Book Awards dinner in March, 1968, the polemics of the Sixties...

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Philip Dacey (review date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Dacey, Philip. “This Book Is Made of Turkey Soup and Star Music.” Parnassus 7, no. 1 (fall-winter 1978): 34-45.

[In the following review, Dacey characterizes This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood as “a book of deep religious longings,” concentrating on the various qualities of Bly's poetic persona that surface in these prose-poems. The critic concludes with a comment on the fourteen short poems of Bly's collection The Loon, which demonstrate the reserved side of the poet.]

William Morris, according to Yeats, once said that “somebody should have been beside Carlyle and punched his head every five minutes.” Surely the same can be...

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William V. Davis (essay date 1979-1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, William V. “Hair in a Baboon's Ear: The Politics of Robert Bly's Early Poetry.” Carleton Miscellany 18, no. 1 (winter 1979-1980): 74-84.

[In the following essay, Davis explores Bly's representation of political themes via the metaphor of light and darkness in his collection The Light Around the Body.]

In the same year that he wrote his powerful poem “Examination of the Hero in a Time of War,” Wallace Stevens wrote a prose statement on the poetry of war in which he tried to reconcile the seemingly disparate tendencies which afflict a man of conscience, who is also a poet, during a time of war:

The immense...

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Peter Stitt (review date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stitt, Peter. Review of This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years, by Robert Bly. Georgia Review 34, no. 1 (fall 1980): 661-67.

[In the following review, Stitt deems the collection This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years uneven, viewing it as further evidence of a duality in Bly's career that allows the “teacher, preacher, and reformer” to overshadow the poet.]

Robert Bly is an important figure in contemporary American poetry, but not because of the strength of his own poems. The position he occupies is rather like that occupied by Ezra Pound early in the century—one hears about Pound as an influence on the practice and careers of...

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Bill Zavatsky (essay date 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Zavatsky, Bill. “Talking Back: A Response to Robert Bly.” In Of Solitude and Silence: Writings on Robert Bly, edited by Richard Jones and Kate Daniels, pp. 127-39. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

[In the following essay, Zavatsky addresses a number of theoretical problems in Bly's work in relation to the poet's thoughts on narrative, the feminine, confession, and other significant element of modern poetry.]

In his own poetry, his many translations, in his magazines, anthologies, essays and interviews, and in his public talks and readings, Robert Bly has given more to American poetry in the last two decades than any other writer who comes to mind. Beyond his...

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Victoria Harris (essay date 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Harris, Victoria. “‘Walking Where the Plows Have Been Turning’: Robert Bly and Female Consciousness.” In Of Solitude and Silence: Writings on Robert Bly, edited by Richard Jones and Kate Daniels, pp. 153-68. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

[In the following essay, Harris explicates Bly's poem “Walking Where the Plows Have Been Turning,” emphasizing its “feminine” principles of intuition, empathy, and integration.]

Our epoch is filled with the resurrection of the woman. In a variety of disciplines—politics, anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, literature—apartheid features of patriarchy are giving way to a spirit of...

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Marjorie Perloff (review date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Perloff, Marjorie. Review of The Man in the Black Coat Turns, by Robert Bly. Parnassus 10, no. 1 (spring-summer 1982): 209-30.

[In the following excerpted review of The Man in the Black Coat Turns, Perloff observes the autobiographical and inward-looking qualities of the collection, and comments on Bly's translation of poems by the Chilean Pablo Neruda.]

According to the blurb. [of Robert Bly's The Man in the Black Coat Turns],

Robert Bly has been writing the poems in this tenth collection for nearly ten years—the time it has taken to move toward the subject of this book: the nurturing power of grief,...

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Charles Molesworth (review date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Molesworth, Charles. Review of The Man in the Black Coat Turns, by Robert Bly. Western American Literature 17, no. 4 (fall 1982): 282-84.

[In the following review of The Man in the Black Coat Turns, Molesworth commends the work's structural variety and unity of persistent themes.]

Robert Bly's new book of poems [The Man in the Black Coat Turns] has three untilted sections, each with a loose stylistic unity. The first section includes poems that will be familiar to readers of The Light Around the Body (1967) and Bly's eight other previous volumes. Thematically the section deals with blocked energies and institutional failure (“the...

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Howard Nelson (essay date 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Nelson, Howard. “Tiny Poems.” In Robert Bly: An Introduction to the Poetry, pp. 113-27. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, Nelson describes the suggestive impact and quick, emotive brilliance of Bly's “tiny poems.”]

                    While dreaming, perhaps, the hand
Of the man who broadcasts the stars like grain
Made the lost music start once more
          Like the note from a huge harp,
And the frail wave came to our lips
In the form of one or two words that had some truth.

—Antonio Machado tr. Charles Reynolds1

Since Bly is a poet who creates books that are not...

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Peter Stitt (review date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Stitt, Peter. Review of Selected Poems, by Robert Bly. Georgia Review 40 (winter 1986): 1021-26.

[In the following review of Selected Poems, Stitt remarks on Bly's poetic journeys through natural, human, and spiritual worlds, his use of daring metaphors, and his allegiance to “the dark, the primitive, the nonrational.”]

Robert Bly's Selected Poems is quite different from most such volumes. … Where poets generally include within their selected volume everything that they wish to preserve from earlier books, Bly has pared his corpus down to a slim grouping meant to indicate the major directions he sees his work taking. As though to...

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Richard P. Sugg (essay date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Sugg, Richard P. “The Poetics of the New Imagination: Silence in the Snowy Fields.” In Robert Bly, pp. 18-35. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

[In the following essay, Sugg examines Bly's early poetic mode, his use and conception of imagery, and his principal themes, particularly those of self-discovery and the development of the soul.]

While he was writing for and editing the Fifties, Bly was publishing his own poetry elsewhere, both in journals and anthologies. But in 1962 his career as an important new American poet properly begins, with the publication of two books. The first, The Lion's Tail and Eyes: Poems Written Out of Laziness and...

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William V. Davis (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, William V. “Silence in the Snowy Fields and This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years.” In Understanding Robert Bly, pp. 17-42. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

[In the following excerpt, Davis offers an overview of the poems in Silence in the Snowy Fields and This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years, comparing the collections structurally and thematically, and maintaining that they adumbrate the important ideas and images Bly addressed throughout his career.]

Silence in the Snowy Fields consists of forty-four short, often perplexingly simple, lyric poems. Bly's epigraph to the book, “We...

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Walter Kalaidjian (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Kalaidjian, Walter. “From Silence to Subversion: Robert Bly's Political Surrealism.” In Critical Essays on Robert Bly, edited by William V. Davis, pp. 194-211. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1992.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1989, Kalaidjian probes Bly's subversive poetics—including his imagistic “repression of history” and his critique of American consumer culture and foreign policy—and concludes by assessing Bly's “woefully lacking” theory of matriarchy.]

Working with long, encyclopedic verse forms, Charles Olson and James Merrill at once depart from James Wright's lyric subjectivity and project Merwin's more discursive...

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William V. Davis (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, William V. “The Poetry of Male Consciousness: The Man in the Black Coat Turns” and “The Poetry of Female Consciousness: Loving a Woman in Two Worlds.” In Robert Bly: The Poet and His Critics, pp. 53-69. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1994.

[In the following excerpt, Davis summarizes critical reaction to Bly's The Man in the Black Coat Turns and Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, works he associates with the poet's exploration of male and female consciousness, respectively.]


At the beginning of the 1980s, Bly's work took a new turn....

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Publishers Weekly (review date 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems, by Robert Bly. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 13 (19 March 1999): 97.

[In the following review of Eating the Honey of Words, the unsigned critic laments the lack of subtlety and development in Bly's poetry.]

Heeded in the '60s as the head apostle of the “Deep Image” school of poets; known for “read-ins” against the Vietnam War; and heralded again recently as the author of the men's movement guide Iron John, Bly has been famous several times over. But this broad set of poems [Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems] from his whole career reveals how...

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Tom Hansen (essay date 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hansen, Tom. “Bly's ‘Surprised by Evening.’” Explicator 58, no. 1 (fall 1999): 53-55.

[In the following essay, Hansen explicates the allusions and imagery of Bly's poem of otherworldly communion, “Surprised by Evening.”]

Robert Bly's book Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems (1999) contains a number of Bly's best-known poems. Some of the older ones, nearly a half-century old, are as evocative yet as elusive as when they were first published, in part because they are the earliest poems that evidence Bly's career-long fidelity to three things so idiosyncratic, at least in his hands, that they have become trademarks of his poetry:...

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Ian Tromp (review date 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Tromp, Ian. Review of Morning Poems, by Robert Bly. TLS: Times Literary Supplement, no. 5093 (10 November 2000): 3.

[In the following review, Tromp acknowledges the wisdom and delicate simplicity of Bly's Morning Poems, calling them the best the poet has written.]

In imitation of the practice of his friend William Stafford, Robert Bly took to writing a poem every morning. He has explained that he stayed in bed until he finished the poem, which on some days meant getting up at dawn, on others at noon. Morning Poems collects eighty or so of these “little adventures / In morning longing”. The adventure aspect came from Bly's practice of...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 2001)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of The Night Abraham Called the Stars, by Robert Bly. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 17 (23 April 2001): 73.

[In the following review of The Night Abraham Called the Stars, the unsigned critic finds the verses of Bly's collection—inspired by Islamic religious poetry, the Bible, and great works of art and literature in the western tradition—sincere, but generally unable to match the grandeur of their subjects.]

When Iron John: A Book About Men took off in the early '90s, Bly's poetic reputation was instantly eclipsed, though he had long embraced mythic precedents and close examination of masculine feelings in his work. Bly has also...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Atkinson, Michael. “Robert Bly's Sleepers Joining Hands: Shadow and Self.” Iowa Review 7, no. 4 (fall 1976): 135-53.

Provides an analysis on the Jungian archetypes of the shadow and the Self that provide the underlying thematic architecture of Sleepers Joining Hands.

Carruth, Hayden. Review of The Light Around the Body by Robert Bly. Poetry 112, no. 6 (September 1968): 418-27.

Briefly comments on the flatness of the poems in The Light Around the Body, arguing that Bly's observations in the collection may be true, but fail to make for satisfying poetry.


(The entire section is 325 words.)