Robert Bly

In his numerous roles as groundbreaking poet, editor, translator, storyteller, and father of what he has called "the expressive men's movement," Bly remains one of the most hotly debated American artists of the past half century. What is it about Bly and his ideas that inspires such impassioned responses from readers and associates? The psychologist Robert Moore believes that "When the cultural and intellectual history of our time is written, Robert Bly will be recognized as the catalyst for a sweeping cultural revolution."

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Audio of "The Human Shadow" by Robert Bly

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A review of Robert Bly's book, "A Little Book on the Human Shadow". 1988

"Robert Bly needs no introduction to this audience as a spokesman for the "men's movement," through Iron John and through what the San Francisco Examiner in a recent article disparagingly characterized as being "electronically canonized by Bill Moyers." We tend to forget that Mr. Bly is first a poet and dreamer of visions, and only then a spokesman on men's issues. A Little Book on the Human Shadow comes out of Mr. Bly's broader perspective.

He offers a powerful analogy on the role the shadow plays in our lives. We spend the first twenty years of our lives stuffing parts of our personality into a big bag that hangs behind our shoulders. Like Johnson, Bly states that we put the best and most creative parts of our personality in this bag in an effort to conform to society's norms. By the time we reach adulthood, the bag may be two or three miles long. We drag it behind us. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to retrieve our true selves out of this bag. Communities and nations have their own bags they drag behind them: the bag behind Bly's small Minnesota hometown in quite different from that dragging behind a Greek village.

The energies that we retrieve later in life are violent and enraged beasts when they first emerge. You would be, too, if you were stuffed into a deep, dark bag for twenty years. But all they demand is to be accepted for what they are, a part of yourself. Once this is done, they lose their demonic power and lend constructive energy to your own process.

One of the suggestions Bly has for overcoming the shadow's influence is "eating the shadow." This is a process of retrieving our projections of our own shadows onto others and lessening the length of the bag we drag behind us. One way is through the use of careful language -- language that is accurate and that has a physical base. Energy we have sent out is floating about beyond the psyche, and one way of pulling it back into the psyche is by the rope of language. Language contains retrieved shadow substance of all our ancestors. If language does not feel appropriate, then try painting, sculpture, or making images with watercolors. Every bit of our own shadow energy that we don't capture through language, art, poetry, or music remains floating somewhere in the air above the United States, where it can be picked up by politicians against Russia, China, Middle Eastern countries, or South American nations."

To continue on to the next chapter "Joe Quotes", click here.