to the small poem and the quiet voice within

robert bly | warning to the reader

Robert Bly


Sometimes farm granaries become especially beautiful when all the oats or wheat are gone, and wind has swept the rough floor clean. Standing inside, we see around us, coming in through the cracks between shrunken wall boards, bands or strips of sunlight. So in a poem about imprisonment, one sees a little light.

But how many birds have died trapped in these granaries. The bird, seeing the bands of light, flutters up the walls and falls back again and again. The way out is where the rats enter and leave; but the rat’s hole is low to the floor. Writers, be careful then by showing the sunlight on the walls not to promise the anxious and panicky blackbirds a way out!

I say to the reader, beware. Readers who love poems of light may sit hunched in the corner with nothing in their gizzards for four days, light failing, the eyes glazed. . . . They may end as a mound of feathers and a skull on the open boardwood floor . . .

–Robert Bly

[from: WHAT HAVE I EVER LOST BY DYING? Harper Collins, 1992]


  1. Charlie Rossiter

    Robert Bly is so good.

  2. Gary Busha

    This beautiful work shows Bly’s mastery of observation and great skill in word choice. So much is said in so few words. Birds get trapped; rats can escape. I was fortunate to meet Bly years ago and continue to admire his writing.

  3. Steve Fortney.

    I love that guy. An ur Norwegian.

  4. Hatto Fischer

    Thanks Norb for bringing Robert Bly to our attention. Something about the danger of light coming through the cracks in the barn touches upon what I wrote just the other day when anticipating how a poet cannot envision for people to work together insofar as they make a commitment to learn from experience and not just from blind hope. Here then the lines:

    thoughts fade away into the grey sky,
    dexterity is the name cast into the sea
    when forgotten are kisses by strangers
    no longer called Judas
    for the voice of betrayal comes from within
    as the darkened soul fears nothing more
    but the light which can brush away shadows,
    those grey figures of power and abuse
    always looming large and tall
    in the corner of the eye
    imagining a blue bird singing the song of freedom
    like Egyptians used to near the Nile

  5. Nancy Akerly

    Love, love, love Robert Bly!

  6. Don

    Very fine, indeed. Don.

  7. Larry Bly

    Hi my name is Larry Bly son of Harold Jay Bly, in California. Robert Bly is a relative. I am looking forward to interacting with someone regarding Robert. Thanks!

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