“A Christmas Poem” by Robert Bly

Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all
agree
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for
horses;
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place
As children, but we never heard the good stories.

Those stories only get told in the big tents, late
At night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a
man
With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of
the fire.

As children, we knew there was more to it—
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,

Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas
tree
Trembled just before we opened the presents?

There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o’er
The plain
. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.

“A Christmas Poem” by Robert Bly from Morning Poems. © Harper Collins.

“Praising Manners” by Robert Bly

We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.

If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the whole world down.

Your depression is connected to your insolence
And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman
Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter!

The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.
The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.

“Praising Manners” by Robert Bly, from The Winged Energy of Delight. © Harper Collins Publishers

* Many thanks to Ellen H. who recommended this poem for us. She and I both agreed that this piece is so appropriate for our times. “We need a little more civility in our national discourse,” Ellen said. Amen to that, Ellen, amen to that. Thank you again for sharing, Christy

 

“When William Stafford Died” by Robert Bly

Well, water goes down the Montana gullies.
“I’ll just go around this rock and think
About it later.” That’s what you said.
When death came, you said, “I’ll go there.”

There’s no sign you’ll come back. Sometimes
My father sat up in the coffin and was alive again.
But I think you were born before my father,
And the feet they made in your time were lighter.

One dusk you were gone. Sometimes a fallen tree
Holds onto a rock, if the current is strong.
I won’t say my father did that, but I won’t
Say he didn’t either. I was watching you both.

If all a man does is to watch from the shore,
Then he doesn’t have to worry about the current.
But if affection has put us into the stream,
Then we have to agree to where the water goes.

~ Robert Bly, from Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected Poems, 1950 to 2013

William Edgar Stafford (January 17, 1914 – August 28, 1993)

***

Listen to Robert Bly read select Stafford pieces in the video below. Bly reads his own poem, “When William Stafford Died,” at timestamp 11:11.

From Minnesota Men’s Conference‘s YouTube description:

Robert Bly reads selected poems by William Stafford shortly after his passing, discussing in personal terms exactly what made him a legend, culminating in a powerful poem written to his late friend. Recorded at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference.

 

“Gratitude to Old Teachers” by Robert Bly

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then-holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

 

from Eating the Honey of Words, 1999
HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY

Copyright 1999 by Robert Bly.

“Breath” by Kabir

Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor in kirtans, not in legs winding around your
own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.

(as translated by Robert Bly, Kabir: Ecstatic Poems)