The Teeth Mother Naked at Last Analysis

Robert Bly

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is a long, frequently subjective, meditation on the American involvement in the Vietnam War. It describes the “harm” the war has done to America and to Americans “inwardly.” The poem is divided into seven numbered and self-contained sections ranging in length (in the final Selected Poems version) from eight to fifty-three lines. Each section is divided into stanzas of uneven lengths. Several sections are further divided into subsections, separated by asterisks, and section 3 contains two paragraphs of prose. One part of section 2 was originally published independently, in quite different form, in The Nation (March 25, 1968), and another part of this section originally appeared in Robert Bly’s play, The Satisfaction of Vietnam (1968).

The title refers to one of the “mothers” that make up the mystical cult of the Great Mother, which first appeared in ancient times. The Teeth or Stone Mother attempts to destroy consciousness and spiritual growth and has come to stand for the destruction of the psyche in Jungian psychology.

The poem begins with airplanes and helicopters (“death-bees”) lifting off from the decks of ships and flying over Vietnamese villages to bomb the people huddled in the “vegetable-walled” huts. This massive destruction, without mercy even for innocent children, is seen as the end result of what has happened in the American political system. The voices of soldiers are heard ordering the killing of “anything moving,” and the reed huts of the Vietnamese villagers are set afire. The...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

If “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is thought of as political satire, it may also be seen to combine elements of several of the traditional kinds of satire. It is a formal satire in that it makes a direct frontal attack on its adversary, naming names. At the same time, Bly combines elements of the two traditional varieties of satire: the Horatian (through his use of informal diction and the long Whitmanesque line) and the Juvenalian (through the gravity and seriousness of the threat posed and the hoped for serious and positive reaction solicited). Further, using another traditional satiric device, Bly approaches his theme indirectly via the third-person point of view—although, significantly (after slipping in and out of the first and third persons) the point of view shifts dramatically to the first person in the short, climactic fifth section, and it keeps to that point of view throughout the rest of the poem. This shift in the point of view, from the third person to the first, forces the theme and meaning of the poem to the immediate moment and puts it in terms that make it definitively personal.

One of the most conspicuous poetic devices in the poem is Bly’s vivid, often surprising and startling (if sometimes arbitrary or gratuitous) use of imagery and metaphor. Bly is known for his interest in, and his often obsessional use of, “deep images”—that is, images that combine or fuse disparate or unlikely elements and often attempt to connect...

(The entire section is 462 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

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.