Friday, July 22, 2016

I Wish I'd Written This

What to Do with Objects
By Robert Bly

A little snow. Coffee. The bowled-over branches.
The wind, it is cold outdoors, but in the bed

It's warm, in the early lamp-light, reading poems.

These fingers, so rosy, so alive, move
About this book. Here is my wide-traveling palm,
The thumb that looks like my father's, the wedding ring.

It's time to prepare myself—as a friend said—
"Not to be here." It will happen. One day
The dish will be empty on the brown table.

Towards dusk, someone will say, "Today
Some rooms were busy, but this room was not.
The gold knob shone alone in the dark."

No breath, no poems, no dish. And the small change
Will go unnoticed by the snow, the squirrels
Searching for old acorns. What to do with

All these joys? Someone says, "You take them."

From "A Week of Poems at Bennington", published in Best American Poetry 1998. New York, Scribner, © 1998.

The recent deaths of poets I've known have me reflecting on my own mortality – as Bly was when he wrote this, for whatever reason. 

I like the simple directness of the poem (what Wikipedia calls his 'plain, imagistic style') and the ease with which he dwells on various small things that are important in the moment. In the end, despite the title, it is not the physical objects he dwells on so much as the joys they inspire – and not, I think, the dish and the small change so much as the squirrels, the snow, the warm bed, the book of poems, his own hand, the wedding ring.... 

And how can one 'take them'? And who should do that? It's open to interpretation, but I think he means that he himself must take them with him when he dies. If so, it seems to me the only way to do that is to fully experience them while he is alive to do so. And then it becomes not just a message to himself, but to each of us – live fully, don't waste what time you have, savour the joys. The recently deceased poets I am thinking of did that!

Bly himself is still with us, at nearly 90 years old. He has been an important and influential American poet, widely known also in other countries. He has been involved in numerous translations into English from the literatures of other cultures; he has created a specific activism of poets and writers, e.g. during the Vietnam War; he became deeply interested in the Goddess, the Divine Feminine, and this in turn led to the formation of the Men's Movement; both these explorations have included delving into myths and fairytales, as well as Jungian archetypes. 

He has also produced many volumes of poetry and several non-fiction books, as well as editing a number of poetry anthologies. You can find pages of books by and about him at Amazon.

He was born in Minnesota of Norwegian ancestry, has lived most of his life there, and became its first Poet Laureate in 2008. He has received various awards, including the Robert Frost Medal in 2013.

The most comprehensive source of information about his life, work and aesthetics is probably his website. In addition to his bio, details of his books etc., this includes both an extensive interview and details of a film about him, A Thousand Years of Joy. The film, we are told, is available on DVD and can be ordered online.

You can also consult the Wikipedia link above, and similar material (plus poems) at The Poetry Foundation, PoemHunter and Academy of American Poets. The latter includes audio presentations of some poems. There are also readings and lectures on YouTube.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.

Photo SpangleJ, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0


  1. What a wonderful choice or poem. i love the directness of the imagery - very inspiring. thank you for sharing, Rosemary.

  2. I was thrilled to see a poem by Robert Bly, and this one especially resonated with me. Mortality is on my mind these days, too. Thank you, Rosemary, for this wonderful feature, and very meaningful poem. Yes, it is the small joys that are the bedrock of our lives.

  3. this is a poem that goes straight into the heart and makes one aware of that happening in such seemingly ordinary language...thanks for the share Rosemary..

  4. Yes. I can see myself, wordlessly recumbent and unthinking, but in the same spiritual space. I haven't read much Bly in the last decade or so. You've just restored him to me.

    1. Ha, restored him to myself too, Susan, in the process. I had not read any Bly for a long time ether. I do myself as well as everyone else a favour, finding these poems, and poets.

  5. thank you for sharing this poem, Rosemary.
    i read this poem slowly(and read again) trying to understand the imagery in the poem, because they are plain, but they have an intensity and importance about them.

  6. What a great poem.

  7. Thank you for this one Rosemary. You brought back vivid memories of sitting in a small, but overly packed auditorium to hear him read. I got his autograph and we had a short conversation about the incredible difference between reading printed words and hearing the poet speak them. It was an amazing experience.


    1. How fabulous! A friendly, humble man, I have been told.

    2. Yes, very approachable. He'd just published his prose book "Iron John". After he spoke about it, he read his poetry. When he'd get to an important part, he'd stop and ask, "Would you like me to read that again?" The entire audience would nod and softly say yes. He had a twinkle in his eye, and was just enjoying himself.


  8. Oh what a lovely poem with a tinge of sadness. For me simplicity in writing is an art(not easily accomplished) where so many concepts are contained within. I like the message ...death has no impact on the squirrels and the seasons. Life goes on. Vinnies is full of these little trinket joys (my favourite shop)because of it.Especially the fly leaves of books with inscriptions.

  9. A lovely poem and its end line is dramatic and sustaining

    Much love...


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