Robert Bly, who died at the age of 94, was an award-winning poet, author and translator, whose name was created by his bestseller Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), which has been credited with advances the men’s movement in the United States. .
Bly believed that American “male dominance” had softened in an increasingly feminist era, with fathers failing to elevate their sons into a proper state of masculinity, and men’s self-esteem had greatly diminished. He applied Jungian psychology to the analysis of the Grimms’ fairy tale Iron John, about a prince ushered into manhood by the iron-skinned wild man of the title.
The problem with men, according to Bly, dates back to the Industrial Revolution, which drove them away from the family home and largely confined them to the workplace. They needed to rediscover primitive masculine strengths and develop a way of being masculine that does not refer to outdated models.
Reviewing Iron John in The Washington Post, linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen wrote that Bly struck a chord, revealing “the need for rituals and new stories and images to replace those that have worn down and left us.” fall, the alienation of father and son in post-industrial society.
His book – which spent 62 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list – sparked a movement of male-only weekend retreats in the forest, with lots of poetry, dancing, drumming and hugs . Many feminists were unimpressed, but Bly continued to spread her gospel in The Sibling Society (1996), which described a generation transformed into perpetual teenagers by a diet of rock music, violent movies, computer games and trashy television.
He was optimistic, however, pinning his hope on “younger men who are determined to be better fathers than their own fathers were.”
Robert Elwood Bly was born on December 23, 1926, on the family farm near Madison, Minnesota, to parents of Norwegian ancestry. His hardworking father was an alcoholic, while his mother, he wrote in Iron John, was emotionally damaged. He later admitted that he blamed her for the “negative view” he had of his father.
He decided to become a poet as a child after reading WB Yeats: “I recognized that a single short poem has room for history, music, psychology, religious thought, mood, occult speculation, the character and events of his own life.” (He said in another interview that he started writing poetry to impress a beautiful high school teacher.)
Bly spent two years in the United States Navy, then graduated from Harvard in 1950. He had a brief stint in New York City, taking menial jobs and sometimes sleeping in Grand Central Station, then spent two years earning a master’s degree at Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa, where Robert Lowell and John Berryman were on the list of teachers.
After a Fulbright-funded trip to Norway, he would become known for his translations of Scandinavian writers such as Knut Hamsun and Tomas Tranströmer, as well as others like Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca.
Back in the United States – he spent most of his life in Minnesota – he founded a literary magazine, The Fifties. Changing its name every decade, he heard it “sowing trouble”. His first collection of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields, appeared in 1962.
As the decade progressed, he became a vigorous activist, co-founding American Writers Against the Vietnam War, and in 1968 he donated his $1,000 National Book Prize for The Light Around the Body to the resistance movement in repechage.
More than 50 collections of poetry followed, many of which explored myth and spirituality. His anti-war instincts remained as fierce as ever, and in 2004 he published The Insanity of Empire: A Book of Poems Against the War in Iraq.
Robert Bly married author Carol McLean in 1955. They had a son and three daughters, one of whom, Mary, is a romantic novelist writing as Eloisa James. The marriage was dissolved in 1979, and Carol Bly died in 2007. In 1980, Bly married a Jungian therapist, Ruth Ray, who survives him with a stepdaughter and children from his first marriage; a son-in-law predeceased him.
Robert Bly, born December 23, 1926, died November 21, 2021