Artwork by Allbert Richter
I feel as if, over the years, over the decades, my mind and spirit have grown with the words of Robert Bly. Sometimes, I didn't understand them, sometimes they infuriated me, sometimes there was transference.
What an odd, beautiful way reading is to find a friend.
Dating all the way back to 1974 (Unicorn Press), though my copy is a 1987 reprint (Ally Press), the words of Old Man Rubbing His Eyes speak to me as powerfully as any other Bly collection, perhaps most powerfully of all.
There is an obliqueness, a slight off-centered quality to Bly's magic, an almost constant worrying over details, juxtaposed, not always related, striving for something beyond reach, something not even, or perhaps ever, known.
Which explains his late in life attraction to the ghazel form.
But this work has something of an Old World flavor, distinctly Western, yet mysterious as Eastern European poetry, and as forcefully real. Let's listen, let's see:
faces crowding to the window!
I turn away,
When I write of moral things,
the clouds boil
By day's end
a room of restless people,
lifting and putting down small things.
Well that is how I have spent this day.
And what good will it do me in the grave?
What good, indeed, in the grave; but it does do some good now, no?
A Cricket In The Wainscoting
The song of his is like a boat with black sails
Or a widow under a redwood tree, warning
passersby that the tree is about to fall.
Or a bell made of black tin in a Mexican village.
Or the hair in the ear of a hundred-year-old man.
We've all heard that cricket in the wainscoting with its many songs and their singular message; cricket in the wainscoting, cricket in the wainscoting.
Old Man Rubbing His Eyes is one of those poetry books that it is as impossible to describe as it is to excerpt. What is the point really? It is a book, and that book has a message. If forced to put it into words I might say -
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Pick it up and read it. Get it at the library (it's in 364, there must be one nearby you), buy it in an independent shop. It has something of the tincture of winter, the flavor of rich soil, the taste of ever-present death.
It is poetry.
Listen: there's an old man in the wainscoting.
Photo by Matias Romero
in the stove,
a cricket singing,
rendered by dw
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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 155 songs