Themes and Meanings
In his essay “Leaping up into Political Poetry” (1967) Bly writes, “Americamay become something magnificent and shining, or she may turn, as Rome did, intothe enemy of every nation in the world [that] wants to live its own life.” “That decision,” he says, “has not yet been made.” He adds that “a true political poem is a quarrel with ourselves”; it is “a sudden drive by the poet inward” that attempts to “deepen awareness.”
Just as the whole of “Romans Angry About the Inner World” depends upon the question posed in the first line, the poem’s theme is Bly’s attempt to answer this question. It is not a question to which any explicit answer can be given, and for this reason, before he turns to consider it in terms of contemporary time, Bly first establishes a historical context for it. In terms of ancient Rome the context consists of showing what should not have been done—and thus, by way of contrast, suggesting what might be done now. That Bly chooses his historical example from ancient Rome is important. Readers may be reminded of a number of parallels between ancient Rome and twentieth century America: Rome was a major political power, it was prosperous and powerful, and it maintained what was regarded as an “enlightened” empire. Still, Rome fell. Bly seems to suggest that unless Americans learn from Rome’s example, they may well be doomed to a similar fate. The poem is a warning against the destruction that the...
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