Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Morning Thanks--"The Call Away" by Robert Bly


I don't always "get" Robert Bly. I wish I did. I wish I understood his poetry better than I do because I often feel myself in it, even though its meaning, its intent, its purposes often remain mysterious.

Case in point?--this morning's Writer's Almanac entry, "The Call Away," whose first stanza is a series of unmistakably local images. I know Bly's world because it's the world right here beside me.

A cold wind flows over the cornfields;
Fleets of blackbirds ride that ocean.
I want to be out of here, go out,
Outdoors, anywhere in wind.

I'm not as fond of wind as he is, but if you live where he lives--and where I do--you had better learn to get along because the wind is a neighbor, never afar off. His seeming affection marks him as a native, but then his backyard is only a little north of here, it's rural, and it's virtually indistinguishable to what is, just now, beginning to appear outside my window.

My back against a shed wall, I settle
Down where no one can find me.
I stare out at the box-elder leaves
Moving frond-like in that mysterious water.

Well, okay, it's not Iowa but Minnesota, and those leaves are riding one of those lakes "up north." The "I" in the poem, unmistakably Bly himself, professes to adore the isolation of country living and the opportunity to observe the drama nature stages daily, hourly--"box-elder leaves," "frond-like," "mysterious water." Bly and Thoreau, right? So far, I get him. Been there, thankfully, done that thankfully too.

What is it that I want? Not money,
Not a large desk, not a house with ten rooms.
This is what I want to do: to sit here,
To take no part, to be called away by wind.

That the poem caught Garrison Keillor's eye comes as no surprise. After all, there's our mutual neighbor again, the wind, singing, siren-like, to him in this reverie. I can't say I know Bly, but I've met him, heard him read his poetry accompanied by that lute he plays, listened to him talk about things, about life. So far, this Bly poem is a Minnesota Walden cabin, with this exception. Walden Pond was to Thoreau, a test, a trial to see if discover how to live by living simply. After a couple of years, he left.

This is different. Bly isn't leaving. There's nothing temporary about "What is it that I want?" That's a serious question.

I want to go the new way, build a shack
With one door, sit against the door frame.
After twenty years, you will see on my face
The same expression you see in the grass.

It's difficult not to feel some sort of death wish here in the final stanza--although that sounds a good deal worse than it is. Anyway,the "shack with one door" feels grave-like to me, and it's deadly serious, unless death isn't--and, notably, this stanza doesn't suggest it is all that lamentable for Robert Bly. "The new way" feels, in this poem, like a gradual withering away, similar to the way our garden and our flowers are all in decline right now. Their eventual deaths aren't at all shocking because it comes so unrelentingly slow.

I may be way off here. Like I said, I don't always "get" Bly--but it seems to me that old man Bly (born in 1926--he's 89 years old) is talking about his own end times and establishing his druthers--small cabins with one door, quiet days in prairie winds, all around him the drama of life in nature to grandly observe, and himself slowly returning to the dust from which he came and was formed, a look on his face not at all unlike "you see in the grass."

I'd call that way of death "the old way," I guess. I don't understand "the new way."

But I know the world he sees around him--what he loves and what he hopes will be. 

And I'm thankful for the poem, for the way it's begun my day, a meditation from the very ground beneath my feet, the expressive grasses in our backyard.

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