Sunday, February 16, 2014

Robert Bly: Growing Wings (a ghazal)


It's all right if Cezanne goes on painting the same picture.
It's all right if juice tastes bitter in our mouths.
It's all right if the old man drags one useless foot.

The apple on the Tree of Paradise hangs there for months.
We wait for years and years on the lip of the falls;
The blue-gray mountain keeps rising behind the black trees.

It's all right if I feel this same pain until I die.
A pain that we have earned gives more nourishment
Than the joy we won at the lottery last night.

It's all right if the partridge's nest fills with snow.
Why should the hunter complain if his bag is empty
At dusk? It only means the bird will live another night.

It's all right if we turn in all our keys tonight.
It's all right if we give up our longing for the spiral.
It's all right if the boat I love never reaches shore.

If we're already so close to death, why should we complain?
Robert, you've climbed so many trees to reach the nests.
It's all right if you grow your wings on the way down.

from My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy

Robert Bly has been working for quite some time in the ghazal form in English and this particular volume, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, is groundbreaking, transformative, and a pure thrill to read. 

The history of the form in English is not a long one. An informative article, though with no mention of Bly, may be found here (another interesting series of articles may be found at the aha poetry site). I believe Bly is helping to literally transform the ghazal itself in its English incarnation. 

For those who are unaware, ghazal in English is pronounced "guzzle" (with the g enunciated from the back of the throat) or haazal, if my ear is getting it right. You can hear it pronounced here

As with non-Japanese haiku, ghazal can become something different in another language (for example, Bly's renditions, which have something of the spirit and some of the conventions but also somthing all their own), related, perhaps running a parallel course. In any case, this interesting form certainly enriches English language poetry and can expand the palette for English language poets. 

For those who find the idea of these 'bastard ghazals', as Wikipedia describes them, unappealing, work that sticks a bit closer to the form may be found in the 1st English language anthology of ghazals, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, edited by Aga Shahid Ali is an alternative (though, ironically, Wikipedia noted that only 1 in 10 of the poems in the anthology "observe the constraints of the form.")

All that being said, least I stray too far, My Sentence is a Thousand Years of Joy is a Bly volume to cherish. It is well worth space on any poetry reader's shelf.


Artwork by Enrico Manzanti from Pinnochio

when will it become
a cricket's nest?
my white hair
translated by David G. Lanoue

 Send one haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature. Here's how.

  Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 184 songs


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting post Don - and Issa's "white hair" - such a wonderful touch at the end. There is something about the work of Robert Bly that to me has always seemed simple yet somehow momentous as well - I think he is an incredible poet. All my life I keep returning to "Silence In The Snowy Fields" - perhaps some day I will find what I am looking for there. This book is so good as well - which you have expressed better than I could.

Best Regards -


Rehn said...

Thank you so much for Bly poem. Just wonderful.

Anonymous said...

This one hits the spot for me today.

Thank You, Don,
Eve Luckring

Peter Newton said...

Bly certainly captures the spirit of the form as I understand it. Almost a wiser self traveling back in time to speak in simple wisdoms.

I would also recommend the more traditional ghazals of poet Agha Shahid Ali. A wonderful man, teacher and reader of his own poems. I've never attempted a ghazal having been first introduced to them by Shahid's near perfections.

One day . . .
the poet tells himself:
you'll understand

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I agree, Jeffrey - the more Bly I read, the more incredible he seems. Looking back, I see I've blogged about him time and again.

When I searched the blog, I found 8 or so posts about Bly and his work over the years.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Rehn, glad you liked it. Don

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Eve: Cheers, glad to hear it! Don

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Very, very nicely put, Peter. Thank you. Don