Bill Long 11/11/06
Robert Bly on Longing and Loving
Robert Bly's 2005 collection of poems, My Sentence Was 1,000 Years of Joy, experiments with the ghazal form of poetry. Derived from medieval Persian poets Rumi and Hafez, this poetic form wasn't introduced successfully into English until the late 1990s. Bly's ghazals consist of six stanzas of three lines each, with each stanza having about 35 syllables. His name, Robert, often appears somewhere in the last verse. Originally the ghazal was a poetic form of love--love for the divine or for another individual, but in Bly's skillful hands it becomes the instrument to explore longing, existence, light and darkness as well as the traditional theme of love. This essay ruminates on a few of his ghazals.
Bly's Upbeat Longing
As a poet Bly certainly knows darkness, yet as the Scriptures say of God, "even the darkness is not dark to you." For example, in "The Night the Cities Burned," he says:
"I don't know why these poems keep veering off
Toward darkness. Robert, you are actually a daughter
Of Lot, fleeing from the ruins of the Enlightenment."
Though he says that "So much of our life goes by in the murky dark, he also is "never tired of despair and desperation/ And I won't be quiet." The dark, we are led to believe, is only a temporary place of repose, a sort of murky place that may be a resting place, but is only so because we are fleeing from the false light of "Enlightenment.
But mostly Bly teaches us about longing, about the struggle to yearn for an existence which is never quite in our grasp but always beckons us onward. This is especially evident in "The Bridegroom." The first stanza sets his tone:
"The bridegroom wanted to reach the Norwegian Church
But the roads were made impassable by huge snows;
We are each the Bridegroom longing for existence."
What could be more full of longing than a bridegroom trying to get to the church for his wedding? But we are hindered in that quest by the impassible and cloyed roads. Yet we long. Each of us. We long for a purer, fuller, more meaningful sort of existence which we don't currently have.
But we as humans are not the only part of creation that yearns. The Apostle Paul may have said that the entire creation longs for the revelation of the Sons of God, but Bly will deal with much more mundane longings.
"Some say that each drop of ground water in Kansas
Knows about the ocean. How can this be?
Every drop of water longs like us for existence."
But sometimes we don't only long for existence. We can even reach out and touch it, as did JS Bach:
"When the pianist's fingers strike all the notes
In the Tenth Prelude, it's clear Bach's soul has been
Leaping about like a hare in the field of existence."
Isn't this poetry of hope? We humans in the fulness of our creativity can, as it were, instantiate or appropriate existence right here and now. So much of our lives, however, is lived as a sort of shadow: a false existence validated by others but often characterized by pettiness, desperation, sadness and self-aggrandizement. How do we get to that state of existence?
Getting to the Sacred Place
We get to the place when two things happen: one of which we control and one which is out of our control. We, like Bly, need to learn to "drive our buggies" over the "prairies of human sorrow." In "Shabistari and The Secret Garden" he has it:
"Robert, those high spirits don't prove you are
A close friend of truth; but you have learned to drive
Your buggy over the prairies of human sorrow."
Ah, a learned response. Learn to see the world from its fulness, from the perspective of its yearning for existence. We, too, are fellow yearners. Maybe that is the key to driving our buggy over the prairies of human sorrow.
But sometimes we are just taken to that place of existence, that location of creativity and fulness, which we receive as a gift from the Universe. Bly knows this, too:
"When a poem takes me to that place where
No story ever happens twice, all I want
Is a warm room, and a thousand years of thought"
Take me, o poem; take me, o thought; take me to the realms where "no story ever happens twice," where every beat of celestial music I hear is new, where every story speaks with a freshness that enchants the heart. If I am taken there, I just want to be there for 1,000 years, to think and to enjoy.
Will you join me there?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long