Robert Bly

(born Dec. 23, 1926)

Robert Bly

"Where We Must Look For Help"
"Solitude Late at Night in the Woods"
"The Call Away"
"In the Time of Peony Blossoming"
"Gratitude to Old Teachers"
"My Father at Eighty-Five"
"Conversation with the Soul"
"Tasting Heaven"
"Orion the Great Walker"
"The Hermit At Dawn"
"What Is Sorrow For?"
"Growing Wings"
"There Are So Many Platos"
"Stealing Sugar from the Castle"

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Preface: I first saw Robert Bly at his poetry reading at San Jose State University in 1988 when I was learning to write free verse poetry. Bly read his poems as well as translations of Rumi while strumming on his guitar. Often he would repeat the Rumi quatrains as well as some of his shorter poems. My favorite Bly poem from that night was "My Father at Eighty-Five". I was deeply touched by Bly's lines "With new love. All / I know of the Troubadours / I bring to this bed. / I do not want / Or need to be shamed / By him any longer." Now that Bly is grown up and a renowned poet, he's free of the rancor felt when younger. Instead, he feels a new love and brings the songs of the Troubadours to alleviate his father's pain in the hospital. Later, I went to two of Bly's Poetry Retreats at Asilomar (1988-1989) as well as his "Mythical Thinking Workshop" in San Francisco (1988). Last year, Stanford had a celebration of Rumi's 800th Birthday with Robert Bly (Jan. 27, 2007). I decided to go at the last day and bought the last ticket. Now, I'm fortunate to be in Bly's Stanford Poetry Workshop this spring quarter (2008), and am inspired by the poets he reads to us (Basho, Issa, Olav Hauge, Hafiz, Kabir, Mirabai, Francis Ponge, and Mary Oliver). Bly's short writing exercises in class have introduced me to write my first prose poems, ramesh, and ghazal. I'm gathering a sonnet number of my favorite Bly poems for this Anthology. Most of the poems were typed from Bly's Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems (1999). I've also referenced the page numbers where the poems originally appeared from Bly books in the Stanford Stacks. While browsing through these earlier books, I came upon Bly's The Morning Glory (1969) containing twelve prose poems. What I found most illuminating was the preface page: “There is an old occult saying: whoever wants to see the invisible must penetrate more deeply into the visible. Everything has a right to exist. If we examine an animal carefully, we see how independent it is of us. Its world is complete without us. We feel separated at first; later, joyful. Basho says in his wonderful poem: The morning glory— / Another thing / that will never be my friend.” When reading a Bly poem, one can feel that he has made many many friends.


The dove returns; it found no resting place;
It was in flight all night above the shaken seas.
Beneath Ark eaves
The dove shall magnify the tiger's bed;
Give the dove peace.
The split-tail swallows leave the sill at dawn;
At dusk blue swallows shall return.
On the third day the crow shall fly;
The crow, the crow, the spider-colored crow,
The crow shall find new mud to walk upon.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 7
     Early Poems (1950-1955) (Web)


The body is like a November birch facing the full moon
And reaching into the cold heavens.
In these trees there is no ambition, no sodden body, no leaves,
Nothing but bare trunks climbing like cold fire!

My last walk in the trees has come. At dawn
I must return to the trapped fields,
To the obedient earth.
The trees shall be reaching all the winter.

It is a joy to walk in the bare woods.
The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves.
The leaves are down, and touching the soaked earth,
Giving off the odor that partridges love.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 21
     Silence in the Snowy Fields (1958-1978)


A cold wind flows over the cornfields;
Fleets of blackbirds ride that ocean.
I want to be in that wild, be
Outdoors, live anywhere in the wind.

I settle down, with my back against
A shed wall where no one can find me.
I stare out at the box elder leaves
Moving in this mysterious water.

What is it that I want? Not money,
Not a large desk, a house with ten rooms.
This is what I want to do: To sit here,
Take no part, be called away by wind.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 24 (Web)
     Silence in the Snowy Fields (1958-1978)


When I come near the red peony flower
I tremble as water does near thunder,
As the well does when the plates of earth move,
Or the tree when fifty birds leave at once.

The peony says that we have been given a gift,
And it is not the gift of this world.
Behind the leaves of the peony
There is a world still darker, that feeds many.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 122 (Quoted, Web)
     Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1973-1981)


When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight—
We were students then— holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 205
     Meditations on the Insatiable Soul (1994), p. 21 (Web)

His large ears
Hear everything
A hermit wakes
And sleeps in a hut
His gaunt cheeks.
His eyes blue, alert,
And suspicious,
Complain I
Do not bring him
The same sort of
Jokes the nurses
Do. He is a bird
Waiting to be fed,—
Mostly beak— an eagle
Or a vulture, or
The Pharoah's servant
Just before death.
My arm on the bedrail
Rests there, relaxed,
With new love. All
I know of the Troubadours
I bring to this bed.
I do not want
Or need to be shamed
By him any longer.
The general of shame
Has discharged
Him, and left him
In this small provincial
Egyptian town.
If I do not wish
To shame him, then
Why not love him?
His long hands,
Large, veined,
Capable, can still
Retain hold of what
He wanted. But
Is that what he
Desireed? Some
Powerful engine
Of desire goes on
Turning inside his body.
He never phrased
What he desired,
And I am
His son.
Meditations on the Insatiable Soul (1994), pp. 26-27
     Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), pp. 194-195


The soul said, "Give me something to look at."
So I gave her a farm. She said,
"It's too large." So I gave her a field.
The two of us sat down.

Sometimes I would fall in love with a lake
Or a pinecone. But I liked her
Most. She knew it.
"Keep writing," she said.

So I did. Each time the new snow fell,
We would be married again.
The holy dead sat down by our bed.
This went on for years.

"This field is getting too small," she said.
"Don't you know anyone else
To fall in love with?"
What would you have said to Her?

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 215
     Morning Poems (1997), p. 8


Some people say that every poem should have
God in it somewhere. But of course Wallace Stevens
Wasn't one of those. We live, he said, "in a world
Without heaven to follow." Shall we agree

That we taste heaven only once, when we see
Her at fifteen walking among falling leaves?
It's possible. And yet as Stevens lay dying
He invited the priest in. There, I've said it.

The priest is not an argument, only an instance.
But our gusty emotions say to me that we have
Tasted heaven many times: these delicacies
Are left over from some larger party.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems
     HarperCollins, New York (1999), p. 220
     Morning Poems (1997), p. 70 (Web)


Orion, that old hunter, floats among the stars
Firmly... the farms beneath his feet. How long
It takes for me to walk in grief like him.
Seventy years old, and still placing my feet
So hopefully each night on the ground.
How long it takes for me to agree to sorrow.
But that great walker follows his dogs,
Hunting all night among the disappearing stars.

Turkish Pears In August
     Twenty-Four Ramages By Robert Bly
     Easten Washington University Press, Spokane, WA (2007)

(10) THE HERMIT AT DAWN [Ramage #10]

Early in the morning the hermit wakes, hearing
The roots of the fir tree stir beneath his floor.
Someone is there. that strength buried
In earth carries up the summer world. When
A man loves a woman, he nourishes her.
Dancers strew the lawn with the light of their feet.
When a woman loves the earth, she nourishes it.
Earth nourishes what no one can see.

Turkish Pears In August (2007)

(11) WHAT IS SORROW FOR? [Ramage #11]

What is sorrow for? It is a storehouse
Where we store wheat, barleey, corn and tears.
We step to the door on a round stone,
And the storehouse feeds all the birds of sorrow.
And I say to myself: Will you have
Sorrow at last? Go on, be cheerful in autumn,
Be stoic, yes, be tranquil, calm;
Or in the valley of sorrows spread your wings.

Turkish Pears In August (2007) (Web)


The mourning dove insists there is only one morning.
The nail remains faithful to its first board.
The hoarse crow cries out to a thousand planets.

The sun goes down through ghettos of clouds.
There is one Burning Mind and so many Platos.
The Morning Star rises over a flutter of wings.

To those who make up music, and write poems,
I say: Our task is to become a moist tongue
By which subtle ideas slip into the world.

Probably we were born too near the potato bin.
Like the potato, we have many closed eyes.
A touch on the thigh displaces all the heavens.

There are more planets than have ever been found.
They rise and set again. Some people say
A painting is a pitcher full of the invisible.

Robert, some images in this poem are just right.
It is probably as good as anyone can do
Who is still living in the old inn of desire.

My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy (2005), p. 13 (Web)


It's all right if Cezanne goes on painting the same picture.
It's all right if juice tastes bitter in our mouths.
It's all right if the old man drags one useless foot.

The apple on the Tree of Paradise hangs there for months.
We wait for years and years on the lip of the falls;
The blue-gray mountain keeps rising behind the black trees.

It's all right if I feel this same pain until I die.
A pain that we have earned gives more nourishment
Than the joy we won at the lottery last night.

It's all right if the partridge's nest fills with snow.
Why should the hunter complain if his bag is empty
At dusk? It only means the bird will live another night.

It's all right if we turn in all our keys tonight.
It's all right if we give up our longing for the spiral.
It's all right if the boat I love never reaches shore.

If we're already so close to death, why should we complain?
Robert, you've climbed so many trees to reach the nests.
It's all right if you grow your wings on the way down.

My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy
     HarperCollins, New York, 2005, p. 23 (Web)


We are poor students who stay after school to study joy.
We are like those birds in the India mountains.
I am a widow whose child is her only joy.

The only thing I hold in my ant-like head
Is the builder's plan of the castle of sugar.
Just to steal one grain of sugar is a joy!

Like a bird, we fly out of darkness into the hall,
Which is lit with singing, then fly out again.
Being shut out of the warm hall is also a joy.

I am a laggard, a loafer, and an idiot. But I love
To read about those who caught one glimpse
Of the Face, and died twenty years later in joy.

I don't mind your saying I will die soon.
Even in the sound of the word soon, I hear
The word you which begins every sentence of joy.

"You're a thief!" the judge said. "Let's see
Your hands!" I showed my callused hands in court.
My sentence was a thousand years of joy.

My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy
     HarperCollins, New York, 2005, p. 97
     Cited in Great Mother & New Father Conference
     Quoted in Robert Bly in Eugene II

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (5-17-2008)