The Lion’s Tail and Eyes: Poems Written Out of Laziness and Silence, 1962 (with James Wright and William Duffy)
Silence in the Snowy Fields, 1962
The Light Around the Body, 1967
The Teeth Mother Naked at Last, 1970
Jumping Out of Bed, 1973
Sleepers Joining Hands, 1973
Point Reyes Poems, 1974
Old Man Rubbing His Eyes, 1974
The Morning Glory, 1975
This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood, 1977
This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years, 1979
The Man in the Black Coat Turns, 1981
Out of the Rolling Ocean, and Other Love Poems, 1984
Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, 1985
Selected Poems, 1986
The Apple Found in the Plowing, 1989
What Have I Ever Lost by Dying: Collected Prose Poems, 1992
Meditations on the Insatiable Soul, 1994
Morning Poems, 1997
Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems, 1999
The Night Abraham Called to the Stars, 2001
Leaping Poetry: An Idea with Poems and Translations, 1975
Talking All Morning, 1980
American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity, 1990
Iron John: A Book About Men, 1990
The Sibling Society, 1996
The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine (with Marion Woodman), 1998
Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl, 1961 (with James Wright)
Forty Poems, 1967 (of Juan Ramón Jiménez)
Hunger, 1967 (of Knut Hamsun’s novel)
Twenty Poems of Pablo Neruda, 1968 (with Wright)
I Do Best Alone at Night: Poems, 1968 (of Gunnar Ekelöf)
Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, 1971
Ten Sonnets to Orpheus, 1972 (of Rainer Maria Rilke)
Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems, 1973
Friends, You Drank Some Darkness: Three Swedish Poets, Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf, and Tomas Tranströmer, 1975
Twenty Poems, 1977 (of Rolf Jacobsen)
The Kabir Book: Forty-four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir, 1977
Truth Barriers: Poems, 1980 (of Tomas Tranströmer)
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1981
Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, 1983
The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, 2001
The Roads Have Come to an End Now: Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, 2001 (with Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin)
Horace: The Odes, 2002 (with others; J. D. McClatchy, editor)
A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War, 1966 (with David Ray)
News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, 1980
The Winged Life: The Poetic Voice of Henry David Thoreau, 1986
The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men, 1993
The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures, 1995
Robert Elwood Bly first emerged as a singular voice among the young poets of the 1960’s who were both protesting America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and resisting the erudite, obscurantist tendencies of poetry writing that had been fostered by modernism. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, he became a leader in the so-called men’s movement, espousing a rediscovery by American males of ancient notions of masculinity.
The son of Jacob Thomas Bly and Alice Aws Bly, Bly grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota. After graduating from high school toward the end of World War II, he joined the United States Navy and, upon his discharge in 1946, enrolled in a premedical program at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. In 1947, Bly transferred to Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1956 and was awarded a Fulbright grant to visit Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English.
Bly, who had married Carolyn McLean in 1955, settled on a farm outside his native Madison, where, in 1958, he launched a literary magazine, The Fifties, subsequently published as The Sixties and The Seventies. He advocated an American poetry free of British influences and associated with the poetry of T. S. Eliot, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate. His own poetry, with its reliance on the resources of the unconscious and a surrealistic tone reminiscent of the contemporary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, re-created the quiet and solitude of life in rural Minnesota. His first single-authored collection, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was for many a welcome change of pace in a poetic landscape dominated by an often depressing urban vision.
Bly’s second volume, The Light Around the Body, was equally well received, winning the prestigious National Book Award for poetry in 1968. By this time, however, Bly was caught up in the antiwar movement opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. As early as 1966 he had helped to organize American Writers Against the Vietnam War, and in “read-ins” on college campuses he delivered angry polemics against President Lyndon B. Johnson and those members of his administration regarded as the engineers of U.S. war policy. Bly used his National Book Award acceptance speech to excoriate his own publisher for failing to protest the war and donated his $1,000 prize to the antiwar movement.
The 1973 volume Sleepers Joining Hands continued Bly’s antiwar activism in a poetry that expressed his abhorrence of the U.S. role in Vietnam in uncompromising terms; this stance was reflected as well in seminars he conducted for women during the 1960’s and 1970’s on the subject of the Great Mother. As Bly saw it, the gradual submergence of the ancient life-force principle embodied in the Great Mother in favor of a male-dominated godhead had resulted in the heartless logic of the moralistic culture of post-Christian America.
A divorce in 1979 and a second marriage in 1980, to Jungian therapist Ruth Ray, along with an invitation in 1981 from a commune in New Mexico to lead similar seminars for men, resulted in Bly’s seeking imagery appropriate to the spiritual struggles of men in modern America. The principal image he seized upon as a masculine equivalent to the Great Mother was the character of Iron John, the wild man of the forest from a Brothers Grimm tale. This mythic wild man served, in Bly’s view, as a fitting metaphor for each contemporary American male’s need to reattach himself to his own most challenging and empowering masculine roots.
Bly used Iron John as a metaphorical tool in his workshops throughout the 1980’s, and in 1990 he published Iron John: A Book About Men, which explored the paralyzing malaise afflicting his fellow Americans and, by extension, contemporary culture. The book was an immediate if controversial best-seller, dominating The New York Times nonfiction list for more than a year. The result has been a mixed blessing for the poet turned cultural spokesman and social critic. Bly’s trenchant analysis of the crisis in American life made him a public figure, but some of his opponents, feminists prominent among them, see the former antiwar activist as having become a reactionary male chauvinist. From a literary standpoint, Bly can be seen as filling the role of social catalyst and public naysayer he has always regarded as the province of the poet.