The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The eighteen free-verse lines of Robert Bly’s “Silence” serve as an introduction to his beginning as a poet actively attempting to explain the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature, of which he became vividly aware during his youth in rural Minnesota. Bly was also intrigued by nature as the source of poetry. In “Silence,” eventually collected in his first gathering of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields, Bly demonstrates his movement toward a canon of poetry focusing upon deeply hidden images that must be dredged up by the poet from what psychologist Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious,” the source of all memories and ideas. Bly was certain that the source of all poetry, or the inspiration at least, was to be found deep in this repository of an individual’s inspiration.

Like most of Bly’s nature poems, “Silence” depicts a nature that is active, not something just to be admired or rationalized as many earlier nature poets, such as William Cullen Bryant, treated it. The narrator of “Silence,” a rural writer “Cradling a pen, or walking down a stair/ Holding a cup,” is thrust into both the real and the metaphysical nature that surrounds him and tries to explain the nature-human dynamic to himself and to the reader.

The first stanza establishes an archetypal chronology for the poem. The reader is witnessing the end of one point in the speaker’s understanding and the beginning of another...

(The entire section is 529 words.)