Monday, September 22, 2008

Robert Bly's Treatment of the Domestic in "For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old"

I have to admit, I haven't read much of Robert Bly's work, so I was happy to run across his poem "For My Son, Noah, Ten Years Old."

The manuscript I'm currently working on focuses much of its attention on the domestic sphere and it's exciting to see another poet writing on the subject. There is a specific difficulty inherent in the task of writing about family. I believe it requires the poet to examine his/her success, but also failure as a parent/spouse.

“For My Son, Noah, 10 Years Old” depicts a father/son relationship, and the tranquility created by that relationship. I’m interested in the way Bly sets up this moment. In my own poems, I tend to begin with a textual representation of the domestic and use this representation as a lens to explore/understand relationships/concerns of the outside/undomestic. In “For My Son,” Bly has done the opposite, describing various elements of the natural world before focusing in on the tenderness of the time a father spends with his son. There’s a deep conflict here between the elements of the natural/outside world and the tasks the father and son enjoy together: “but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and the dark.” For Bly, the work of the artist and the child are inherently original and distinctly separate from the horse, the chicken, the barn, and the lumber pile.

It’s a beautiful poem and I hope you enjoy the read. Also, if you run across any other poems which seek to depict or represent domestic concerns, please post here or e-mail I’d love to hear from you. Have a good week!

For My Son Noah, Ten Years Old
By Robert Bly

Night and day arrive and day after day goes by,
and what is old remains old, and what is young remains
young and grows old,
and the lumber pile does not grow younger, nor the
weathered two-by-fours lose their darkness,
but the old tree goes on, the barn stands without help so
many years,
the advocate of darkness and night is not lost.

The horse swings around on one leg, steps, and turns,
the chicken flapping claws onto the roost, its wings whelping
and whalloping,
but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night and
the dark.
And slowly the kind man comes closer, loses his rage, sits
down at table.

So I am proud only of those days that we pass in undivided
when you sit drawing, or making books, stapled, with
messages to the world...
or coloring a man with fire coming out of his hair.
Or we sit at a table, with small tea carefully poured;
so we pass our time together, calm and delighted.

1 comment:

jilmeka said...

I, too, write about my family a lot. I enjoyed this poem; the inversion of the usual order of starting with the domestic (as you pointed out) interested me. Kind of like coming home after a long day, or coming in from the cold. Are there fewer father and child poems than mother / child? I could recommend several good ones. I also want to read _Not for Mothers Only_, which Molly recommended. I will pass on any good ones that I find.