Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Robert Bly

American Poet, Author, Activist and Leader of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, best known for his book, "Iron John: A Book About Men"

"Wherever there is water there is someone drowning."

"All poems are journeys. The best poems take long journeys. I like poetry best that journeys - while remaining in the human scale - to the other world, which may be a place as easily overlooked as a bee's wing. "

"As for decreasing violence. If you have an unparented child, something will happen. When you're looking at gangs of young men, you're looking at young men who have no older man in their life at all. And when a young man feels unparented, he will try to burn your city down for you. When a young woman feels unparented, she may become depressed or have a teenage baby, but a boy will become violent. And we have to realize that the greatest danger to the culture is coming from these young unparented males all over the world. And if we want to do something about that, instead of pouring money in from Washington, one thing you would do is you would go to South Los Angeles and you would ask in the black communities who is a responsible older male here. And they would know. They only know that at the block level. Then you'd go to that older man and you'd say to him, “Listen, I'm gonna give you eighteen thousand dollars and I want you to keep two young men out of prison in that time.. It costs thirty-five thousand to keep a young man in prison. It costs more to keep a young man in prison than to send him to college.” And the older man then has something to do and the younger man has someone to talk to and be with. And it's astonishing the changes that come in young men when that happens. We do a lot of work in this group now with gangs. Sometimes we have fifty-percent black men and sometimes thirty-five percent of those are gang members. There was one in Los Angeles in which two young men came in who'd already killed over eight men and were there. And it's astonishing how they will change when they realize there's older men who are interested in them."

"The roots of male violence. I'll give you three answers that almost any sensible person gives, and I'll give another one that we've learned lately. The roots of male violence obviously go back to maybe four hundred thousand years of killing animals. And, so in the beginning, men were asked to be violent. And after that, as you know, after the hunter time, then people went into agriculture and the cities began to form. Then there was a surplus of grain and then neighboring people come to steal their grain. And they think there was no real warfare in the hunter-gatherer groups. But once the cities were formed, there was violence. So we have that in our bodies. Another reason I would give as to the roots of male violence is the amount of shame that men take in. Women take in tremendous amount of shame too, but women have talked about that for a long time. They discuss it, even in high school, that they went out on a date and they felt ashamed of this and the men simply say they, they lie -- "Buddy, I scored this, and I did..." -- you understand what I'm saying. So it takes a long time for men to learn to be able to talk about their shame. And sometimes what happens in the family is that a woman will say a criticism to a man, perfectly ordinary criticism, and it goes into some shame place in the heart, and he can't get it back out. And the only thing then he'll do, you understand me. So when people talk to me about violence, I say we have to think about shame. We have to think about the man being able to say at that moment, “I feel ashamed here by what you just said.” And the woman says, “Well, I didn't intend that. I was just trying to point out that you said you were going be, but you weren't.” So we do a lot of work with that. To try to, there's a great book called Shame by Gershin Caufman that talks about that. And I'm a shamed person, so I know something about that. Violence is not in the way that I went and my father didn't go that way, but I think he treated his shame with alcohol. The third thing and a fourth is this: you know the movement that we do (no matter what is said in television) about running naked in the woods and beating drums and all that stuff is really an effort to make men more expressive. This would be expressive. Many men numb themselves so they're not expressive. If you're too expressive in IBM, you get fired. And, so the reason we tell stories and when we have groups we recite poetry, read poetry to them for an hour before we go on to anything, that's expressiveness being able to do that. So I want to now relate that to violence, shall we?"

"A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed. It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes a lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving. "

"Early Morning in Your Room - It's morning. The brown scoops of coffee, the wasp-like Coffee grinder, the neighbors still asleep. The gray light as you pour gleaming water-- It seems you've traveled years to get here. Finally you deserve a house. If not deserve It, have it; no one can get you out. Misery Had its way, poverty, no money at least. Or maybe it was confusion. But that's over. Now you have a room. Those lighthearted books: The Anatomy of Melancholy, Kafka's Letter to his Father, are all here. You can dance With only one leg, and see the snowflake falling With only one eye. Even the blind man Can see. That's what they say. If you had A sad childhood, so what? When Robert Burton Said he was melancholy, he meant he was home."

"Every noon as the clock hands arrive at twelve, I want to tie the two arms together, and walk out of the bank carrying time in bags."

"Finding the Father - My friend, this body offers to carry us for nothing? as the ocean carries logs. So on some days the body wails with its great energy; it smashes up the boulders, lifting small crabs, that flow around the sides. Someone knocks on the door. We do not have time to dress. He wants us to go with him through the blowing and rainy streets, to the dark house. We will go there, the body says, and there find the father whom we have never met, who wandered out in a snowstorm the night we were born, and who then lost his memory, and has lived since longing for his child, whom he saw only once? while he worked as a shoemaker, as a cattle herder in Australia, as a restaurant cook who painted at night. When you light the lamp you will see him. He sits there behind the door? the eyebrows so heavy, the forehead so light? lonely in his whole body, waiting for you."

"Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive. Jump into experience while you are alive! Think... and think... while you are alive. What you call salvation belongs to the time before death. If you don't break your ropes while you're alive, do you think ghosts will do it after? The idea that the soul will rejoin with the ecstatic just because the body is rotten-- that is all fantasy. What is found now is found then. If you find nothing now, you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death. If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire. So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is, Believe in the Great Sound! Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity."

"A person who discreetly farts in an elevator is not a divine being, and a man needs to know this."

"His large ears hear everything a hermit wakes and sleeps in a hut underneath his gaunt cheeks. His eyes blue, alert, disappointed, 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 desired? Some powerful engine of desire goes on turning inside his body. He never phrased what he desired, and I am his son."

"I am proud only of those days that pass in undivided tenderness."

"I have daughters and I have sons. When one of them lays a hand on my shoulder, shining fish turn suddenly in the deep sea."

"In ordinary life, a mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building and emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy."

"It is so easy to give in - I have been thinking about the man who gives in. Have you heard about him? In this story a twenty-eight-foot pine meets a small wind And the pine bends all the way over to the ground. I was persuaded, the pine says. It was convincing. A mouse visits a cat, and the cat agrees To drown all her children. What could I do? The cat said. The mouse needed that. It?s strange. I?ve heard that some people conspire In their own ruin. A fool says, You don?t deserve to live. The man says, I?ll string this rope over that branch, maybe you can find a box. The Great One with her necklace of skulls says, I need twenty thousand corpses. Tell you what, The General says, we have an extra battalion over there on the hill. We don?t need all these men."

"It?s all right if you grow your wings on the way down."

"Like a note of music, you are about to become nothing."

"Many people boast of going years without a vacation. But this is a sign of trouble - not commitment."

"My life failed on the very day I was born."

"Suppose you see a face in a Toyota. One day, and you fall in love with that face, and it is her, and the world rushes by like dust blown down a Montana street. And you fall upward into some deep hole, and you can?t tell God from a grain of sand. And your life is changed, except that now you overlook even more than you did before; and these ignored things come to bury you, and you are crushed, and your parents can?t help anymore, and the woman in the Toyota becomes a part of the world that you don?t see. And now the grain of sand becomes sand again, and you stand on some mountain road weeping."

"The inner boy in a messed-up family may keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years. I am a victim, he says, over and over; and he is. But that very identification with victimhood keeps the soul house open and available for still more invasions. Most American men today do not have enough awakened or living warriors inside to defend their soul houses. And most people, men or women, do not know what genuine outward or inward warriors would look like, or feel like."

"They wrote to me and said something about it, and I said that if it doesn't involve any work, I'll do it. (On being named Minnesota's first Poet Laureate)"

"Those of us who make up poems have agreed not to say what the pain is."

"We will have to call especially loud to reach our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding in the jugs of silence filled during our wars."

"What does it mean when a man falls in love with a radiant face across the room? It may mean that he has some soul work to do. His soul is the issue. Instead of pursuing the woman and trying to get her alone, away from her husband, he needs to go alone himself, perhaps to a mountain cabin, for three months, write poetry, canoe down a river, and dream. That would save some women a lot of trouble."

"When a man says to a woman, ?You are my anima?, she should quickly scream and run out of the room. The word anima has neither the greatness of the Woman with Golden Hair nor the greatness of an ordinary woman, who wants to be loved as a woman."