I was first intrigued by Robert Bly’s poetry when I came across a description of his life and work in Michael Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets. While browsing a used bookshop in New England a few weekends ago, I bought a slim, hardcover volume of his poetry entitled, “Loving a Woman in Two Worlds.” My copy is not only in fine condition, but it is signed and inscribed by the author with a little drawing.
Love poems can so quickly become oversaturated with sappy cliches about lovesickness and heartache. But Bly uses images of mature, sensual, deep, long-lasting love as his inspiration for his collection. His poems are brief and are usually set in nature:
All day I loved you in a fever, holding on to the tail
of the horse.
I overflowed whenever I reached out to touch you.
My hand moved over your body, covered
with its dress,
burning, rough, an animals foot or hand moving
The rainstorm retires, clouds open, sunlight
sliding over ocean water a thousand miles from land.
The sense of contentment and sheer, unadulterated joy comes through in his poem “A Third Body.” A relationship is more than two people, it is how they are together—their history, their jokes, their private moments—that Bly personifies as a third body in this poem.
A Third Body
A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age many come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.
The final one I will share from this collection describes love as a secret. Not a secret as in an illicit love affair, but instead a love that is quiet and calm and very private which makes it stronger and “unworried.”
I walk below the over-bending birches,
birches that arch together in the air.
It is an omen of an open door,
a fear no longer found in the wind.
Are there unions only the earth sees?
The birches live where no on else comes
deep in the unworried woods...
These sandgrains looked at by deer bellies.
In addition to being a talented poet, Bly was also an essayist and translator. I intend to explore more of his work in the coming year.