Robert Bly Throughout the 20th century, Robert Bly has provided a wealth of poetry on a wide variety of topics. Alongside his themes, Robert Bly has also developed different stylistic methods to convey those thoughts. Such themes vary to this day, dealing with issues that have personally affected him, and also those of society in general. His poetry is a time-line pondering solitude, the Vietnam War, nature, frustration and relationships among all sorts, conveyed not only in conventional stanzas, but in a form called “prose” poetry as well. Contributing and inspiring to many, the work of Robert Bly provides an interesting take on American poetry.
Robert Blys’ first collection of poems were released in 1962, titled, Silence in the Snowy Fields. Divided into three sections: “Eleven Poems of Solitude,” “Awakening,” and “Silence on the Roads,” all combine along with the title to explore as Richard P. Sugg states: “human nature as twofold, consisting of both the conscious and the unconscious. . .” A poem “Return to Solitude” explores the conscious and unconscious aspects of human nature, relating a desire to exist in the purest, solitary state; one of inside the womb. “Return to solitude” seemingly jumps between the conscious and unconscious state, all the while conveying a yearning for a more solitary existence.
The first stanza, portrays solitude via the imagery. “It is a moonlit, windy night. / The moon has pushed out the Milky Way.” Envisioning these two lines invokes a sense of remoteness, a picture of a single, bright moon in the night sky without any stars. “Clouds are hardly alive, and the grass leaping. / It is the hour of return.” With the clouds hardly alive, or non-existent, the moon is now explicitly alone in the sky; an obvious image of solitude.
“It is the hour of return” in effect, makes the first stanza a conscious thought, since it is a statement, a bold declaration that is consciously put forth. The unconscious comes to play in the second stanza. “We want to go back, to return to the sea,” communicates a sense of yearning within the speaker, almost as if a true desire were being confessed. The sea is then described: “The sea of solitary corridors / And halls of wild nights,” whose imagery portrays a birth canal, a corridor and also a hall where sexual intercourse, hence the “wild nights” would occur. “Explosions of grief, / Diving into the sea of death,” correspond to a sexual climax, but are understood by the speaker as negative. By these events occurring, it is creating a person and hence eventually the birth of him/her and the inevitable loss of the pure, solitary state.
Hence the explosive climax is labeled as grievous and paired with an ominous image of “Diving into the sea of death.” The third stanza ponders what would happen if the pure state of solitude was ever reached. “What shall we find when we return? / Friends changed, houses moved, / Trees perhaps, with new leaves.” These images give a sense of a renewed life, a different life with different friends and a different home, and even perhaps a rejuvenation in one’s self, as conjured by the new leaves on trees. Robert Bly’s “Return to Solitude” is one of the many poems within Silence in the Snowy Fields that conveys a dual side to humanity: the conscious and unconscious, and also explores solitude. Following Silence in the Snowy Fields came the turbulent Vietnam War, where Robert Bly took an incredible anti-war stance, seen not only in his poetry but by his frequent activism in protests and rallies. In 1967, Robert Bly published The Light Around the Body, a three sectioned collection of poetry that leaped into current issues.
“Asian Peace Offers Rejected without Publication” is such a poem that portrays a different theme and a different methodology in bringing it to the surface. “Asian Peace Offers Rejected without Publication” promotes a realization regarding mankind’s misconception of war, while making a statement to never forget the atrocities that have already occurred in the past. “Men like Rusk are not men: / They are bombs waiting to be loaded in a darkened hangar.” Here Rusk and his fellows have lost all their human qualities, thereby losing the ability to be compassionate and understanding. The speaker then labels Rusk and his cohorts as bombs, the embodiment of modern carnage and destruction. “Rusk’s assistants eat hurriedly, / talking of Teilhard de Chardin,” An interesting twist then takes place, with the speaker introducing the idea that those favoring destruction, claim to do it under a seemingly noble guise and hence justify it to themselves. The irony follows in the imagery of the last line: “They start the projector, and show the movie about the mad pro-/fessor.” Coincidentally, those that are showing the “mad professor” do not realize the fact that their desire for destruction, their justification for war and bloodshed are in essence crazy and unwarranted, similar to a madman’s motives. Together, the first stanza sums up a misconception toward war; the simple dismissal of death and the carnage associated with war because in someone’s eyes it is a just and good war.
Stanza two brings images of America’s own similar atrocities, and a call to remember them through vivid imagery. “Lost angels huddled on a night branch:” portray an image of those who have died, watching the consequent images pass. Images invoking colonial intrusion upon native American lands, the westward expansion at the expense of those natives and lives of workers building the railroad. All these deaths, release the feeling of “something inside us / Like a ghost train in the Rockies / About to be buried in snow!” This feeling that the speaker refers to, this embodiment of pain and despair cries out, “Its long hoot / Making the owl in the Douglas fir turn his head” asking a symbolic representation of America, to take notice and realize that what has happened in the past, is what is occurring with Rusk in Vietnam. “Asian Peace Offers Rejected without Publication” and many other poems within Light Around the Body showcase a developing Robert Bly.
The themes have changed, with a previous concentration on solitude and the conscious and unconscious being replaced by political poetry expressing personal views toward society’s path. His poetry has changed in that it began to include direct references, specifically to Dean Rusk and theologian Teilhard de Chardin. Throughout Silence in the Snowy Fields, Robert Bly was consistent in not including specifics and always promoting his theme through imagery, rather than an embodiment of associations found in specific personas. Light Around the Body showcases these changing facets of Robert Bly’s poetry and the beginning of his continued development as a poet. In 1979, Robert Bly published another collection of poetry, titled This Tree Will Be Here For a Thousand Years. Considered a sequel to Silence in the Snowy Fields, there are similarities in its return to similar elements such as nature, but in this case Robert Bly concentrates more on the relationship between man and nature.
As Sugg put it, This Tree Will be Here For a Thousand Years “affirms Bly’s metaphysics concerning the interdependence between the individual and the natural laws that sustain him.” “Black Pony Eating Grass” is a typical poem showcasing such a relationship. The interdependence between nature and man is portrayed within “Black Pony Eating Grass.” The first lines invoke a sense of a whole, singular relationship; that everything is inter-related. “Near me a black and shaggy pony is eat …