Saturday, March 11, 2017

"Things to Think" by Robert Bly

First there is this from Robert Bly:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his
A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

"Things to Think" by Robert Bly from Eating the Honey of Words. © Harper Collins, 1999.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

Sometimes I think I think too much. Some thoughts puzzle me, and some thoughts disturb me.

But this poem, with its lovely lyricism, especially the last line, reminds me of a haunting prayer and an unpleasant memory: "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Honestly, I prefer Robert Bly's poem to my childhood prayer. That nighttime ritual of prayer taught me that death was my constant companion. And I think that is a terrible companion for a small child. Shame on my parents for encumbering me with that terror. Perhaps I am being too harsh on them. They thought they were doing the right thing. In any case, death, thanks to many factors, is still a difficult companion for me as an adult.

Now, though, as I think more about Bly's poem, trying to step away from my childhood prayer, I wonder what you think. Yes, let's talk about thinking.


  1. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. We were reminded from the start that every day might be our last, and that we should live accordingly. And that has stayed with me all of my life. Oddly, it did not cause me to fear death, just to be aware of its eventuality. The reality of it came through when a friend in grade school died over the summer. But we all figured he went to heaven, I guess. Of course, now that I am old, and the eventuality of death grows nearer, I am less sanguine than earlier.
    Nice Bly poem. I once spent a very pleasant day with Robert Bly.

    1. Frank, being sanguine is a rare condition for me.
      I read a wonder-filled book by Bly years ago --
      -- but I should explore of his poetry.

  2. Ms. M introduced me to RB; she was a counselor and Jungian, as was Bly, and had a lot of his books.... an amazingly good poet, imo. tx for posting about him...

    1. Mudpuddle, I stumbled upon his poem today at The Writer's Almanac site, and I'm now convinced: I need to read more by Bly.

  3. To be honest, Tim, I do a lot of thinking. In my opinion, most writers do. Creating comes from reflection. And that requires thinking. So I am in total agreement with Bly here.

    1. Nevertheless, Margot, sometimes thinking can be dangerous; at least that is true for me. Animals may not think, and such ignorance might be bliss. Yes, I'm thinking too much again, aren't I?

  4. I also think a lot. I try, but do not always succeed, to think of things in novel ways.

    I do think that certain trains of thought can be harmful. Some political ideologies for instance, have led to enormous harm.

    1. Brian, what do you think of this poem? As for me, it reminds me of why I so often prefer poetry over fiction: the concentration demanded of a reader is thebest kind of thinking possible for a reader (with the possible exception of spiritual matters).

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  6. Hi Tim. I deleted my comment because I made a mistake in my sentence order and it was confusing. Let me try again:

    Hi Tim. I have heard the name of Bly but don't know where. I am sadly ignorant about a lot of poetry. It is hard for me to focus on the subject matter the poet writes about. My fault, not the poet's. I think because I focus on concepts rather than revel in the rhythm and flow of each line.

    I must confess that I'm not sure what to make of this poem. Take reality and apply imagination to it? If so, why? Why does the poet think that?

    Horribly ironic for a musician, although come to think of it, I adore Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry, but only because so much of it has been put to choral music.

    I'm probably too concrete for Bly.

    As for death: I also spoke that prayer each night and it meant nothing to me.

    But one evening I saw on TV the funeral of Lyndon B. Johnson. I was six or seven years old. I did not know the man at all, but I cried and cried. Not for him but because for the first time in my life I realized that we all die. Fear gripped me like a black, icy hand and I knew no peace.

    Thank God, today I do have peace. And courage. And hope!

  7. Sharon, as you have suggested, death, when it encroaches upon our innocence, is a fearful, powerful, confusing event. JFK died and six months later my father died, and twelve and fourteen years later, my infant children died. Death is horrible.

  8. Wow, Tim. You've been through so much. So far no one in my immediate family has died.

    I remember when my uncle died. When I looked upon him at this funeral for the first time in my life I realized that the body I saw was never really him. Who he truly is simply went Home.

    I have had three friends die before their 31st birthday. It taught me life is short and tomorrow is promised to no man. That is why Eternal life is so precious to me.