The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520

“Romans Angry About the Inner World” begins with a question, and the rest of the poem is an attempt to answer this question: “What shall the world do with its children?” It was written during the Vietnam War as one of the blatant antiwar poems Bly collected in The Light Around the Body, but the contemporary conflict is placed in the historical context of ancient Rome, which—once the parallels are understood and the distant past conflated with the present—makes the present terror even more horrific.

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The poem is built around a series of parallels between “executives” and “executioners.” At first these terms seem to suggest a contrast, but the reader quickly realizes that Bly intends to associate them with each other: The “executioners” of ancient Rome have become the “executives” of contemporary society. The present-day executives, like their ancient Roman counterparts, are unaware of the “leaping[s] of the body” or of any of the ways that one can “float/ Joyfully” toward the “dark” positive places in the psyche.

The central section of the poem describes the execution of Drusia by the Romans. The Romans believed that Drusia had “seen our mother/ In the other world”—that is, that she was a member of the mystical cult of the Magna Mater, or Great Mother. This cult appeared in very ancient times, and its members were persecuted by the Romans. Members encouraged the development of the speculative side of consciousness and celebrated the archetype of the feminine. Drusia was therefore regarded as dangerous, and she was tortured and then killed by the Romans.

The other world that Drusia has seen is the “inner world” of the poem’s title; the contrast between the “inner” and “outer” worlds is important in terms of Bly’s political and psychological theme in this poem. The significance of such contrasts is made clear in the epigraph to the book, which is taken from the writings of Jacob Boehme, the seventeenth century German mystic who based much of his philosophy on the notion of the “two worlds.” Part of the epigraph reads: “For according to the outward man, we are in this world, and according to the inner man, we are in the inward world.” Bly, following Boehme, develops his dichotomy in terms of the contrasts between the inner and outer worlds and between the masculine and the feminine sides of the psyche. The contrast is between the Romans, who “had put their trust/ In the outer world” and women such as Drusia, who have put their trust in the inner world. The Romans want Drusia to “assure them” that they have put their trust in the right place, and when she refuses to do so they kill her.

After they have tortured and killed Drusia, the Romans dump her body onto the ground. Immediately, and almost miraculously, a light snow begins to fall. It covers Drusia’s “mangled body,” and the murderous executives/executioners are “astonished” and withdraw. The poem ends with two vivid and somewhat enigmatic images that attempt to define the significance of the contrast between the inner and outer worlds.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391

“Romans Angry About the Inner World” consists of a single stanza of thirty lines written in free verse. In lieu of more conventional poetic devices such as rhyme and meter, Bly relies on rhythm, juxtaposition, imagery, the dichotomy of the “two languages” (the epigraph from Boehme continues, “Since then we are generated out of both worlds, we speak in two languages, and we must be understood also by two languages”), and especially on the kind of “deep images” for which Bly is famous. These devices control the movement of the narrative and establish a meditative mood complementary to the theme.

In many essays and in various interviews Bly has described and defined what he means by “deep images.” They are images that stress feelings and that “trust” emotional states of mind without excluding the intellect. They often “leap” from one thing to another in the same way that the mind “thinks in flashes”; they merge inward “reality” with outward reality; they are filled with spiritual energy and are psychologically accurate even though, when first described, they often seem to be irrational. Bly discusses these deep images in terms of the contrast between “inwardness” and “outwardness” in his essay “Recognizing the Image as a Form of Intelligence” (1981), in which he argues that a deep image can join Boehme’s two worlds together. Therefore, “when a poet creates a true image, he is gaining knowledge; he is bringing up into consciousness a connection that has been forgotten.”

“Romans Angry About the Inner World” ends with two deep images, both of which are attempts to describe the way in which the inner world relates to the outer world. In the first of these images, Bly compares the inner world to “a thorn/ In the ear of a tiny beast!” that the thick fingers of the executives are unable to pull out. That is, the inner world is something inside themselves that the executives wish to renounce but cannot. In the final image the inner world is called a “jagged stone/ Flying toward us out of the darkness.” Putting aside safe, distanced references to the dastardly practices of the ancient Romans or to the anonymous evil-minded executives of the twentieth century, Bly implicates himself and his readers: The inner world, like a premonition of some inevitable cataclysmic event or impending apocalypse, is coming toward us.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 183

Altieri, Charles F. “Varieties of Immanentist Experience: Robert Bly, Charles Olson, and Frank O’Hara.” In Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry During the 1960’s. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1979.

Davis, William Virgil. Understanding Robert Bly. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Friberg, Ingegard. Moving Inward: A Study of Robert Bly’s Poetry. Goteborg, Sweden: Acta University Gothoburgensis, 1977.

Harris, Victoria. The Incorporative Consciousness of Robert Bly. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Lensing, George S., and Ronald Moran, eds. Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination: Robert Bly, James Wright, Louis Simpson, and William Stafford. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.

Malkoff, Karl. Escape from the Self: A Study in Contemporary American Poetry and Poetics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

Nelson, Howard. Robert Bly: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Peseroff, Joyce, ed. Robert Bly: When Sleepers Awake. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1985.

Robert Bly Web site. www.Robertbly.com.

Smith, Thomas R. Walking Swiftly: Writings and Images on the Occasion of Robert Bly’s 65th Birthday. New York: Perennial, 1991.

Sugg, Richard P. Robert Bly. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

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Themes