Poet’s Bookshelf II: Robert Bly

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These articles are published under permission of the editors. We thanks to Prof. Thomas Koontz his gentle support to our magazine.

ROBERT BLY

If I’m asked to comment on books that were a strong influence on me in my twenties, this would be a broadside on amazement. I was brought up, so to speak, with poetry of carefully modulated admirations and elaborately suited poetic bodies. When I first came upon Juan Ramon’s “naked poetry,” I was amazed. He talked about it himself.

At first she came to me pure, dressed only in her innocence; and I loved her as we love a child.

Then she began putting on clothes she picked up somewhere; and I hated her, without knowing it.

.. .She started going back toward nakedness. And I smiled…

Then she took off the cloth and was entirely naked… Naked poetry, always mine, that I have loved my whole life!

I was amazed at this. It helped me to begin a poem by saying,

Oh on an early morning I think I shall live forever.

I am wrapped in my joyful flesh

As the grass is wrapped in its clouds of green.

So I could say that nakedness put me into a new world as far from Alexander Pope as from E. E. Cummings, as far from T. S. Eliot as from Allen Tate.

Jimenez’s friend Antonio Machado took me by the hand and said:

Last night as I was sleeping

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

that I had a beehive

here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

So when Jim Wright said,

While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,

I must have looked a long time

Down the corn rows, beyond grass,

The small house,

White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn…

At a touch of my hand,

The air fills with delicate creatures

From the other world.

That was enough for me. I understood the idea. Wallace Stevens does a lot of the same sort of delicate stuff in Harmonium. That was enough for me. I got the picture.

 

Robert Bly was born in western Minnesota in 1926. Among his many books of poetry are My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy (2006) and The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations (2005). His selected poems, Eating the Honey of Words, appeared in 2000. He is editor of a series of influential literary magazines, beginning with The Fifties and most recently, The Thousands. His prose study, Iron John (1990), is an international bestseller. He lives in Minneapolis.