"When anyone seriously pursues an art — painting, poetry, sculpture, composing — over twenty or thirty years, the sustained discipline carries the artist down to the countryside of grief, and that descent, resisted so long proves invigorating. . . . As I've gotten older, I find I am able to be nourished more by sorrow and to distinguish it from depression."
I first heard Robert Bly read poetry in 1969 while I was in college and I still own a copy of his very first book of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields, which I bought when he was in town and is autographed by him. He was majestic, expansive and seemed to blow the roof off the auditorium. I fell in love with the poetry I read in that small sixty-page book, published by Wesleyan University Press, full of images of the midwest where I was born and raised. Years later I had another opportunity to hear Bly read and I bought a collection of his prose poems, Morning Glory. I own a number of his poetry books and his books of translated poems. I even bought the book that made him rich and famous, Iron John, a non-fiction book I have never been able to finish reading.
Here is a short poem that I love. The last two lines have the feel of Japanese haiku.
Watering the Horse
How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse's mane!
Here is another favorite poem of mine from his first collection. This poem evokes the feeling of the rural countryside in which I grew up. Anyone who grew up in the rural midwest will immediately feel at home.
Three Kinds of Pleasure
Sometimes, riding in a car, in Wisconsin
Or Illinois, you notice those dark telephone poles
One by one lift themselves out of the fence line
And slowly leap on the gray sky —
And past them, the snowy fields.
The darkness drifts down like snow on the picked cornfields
In Wisconsin: and on these black trees
Scattered, one by one,
Through the winter fields —
We see stiff weeds and brownish stubble,
And white snow left now only in the wheeltracks of the combine.
It is a pleasure, also, to be driving
Toward Chicago, near dark,
And see the lights in the barns.
The bare trees more dignified than ever,
Like a fierce man on his deathbed,
And the ditches along the road half full of a private snow.