Robert Bly poet, translator of poetry, anti-war activist, and the most visible guru of the early men’s movement died this week. 

Robert Bly: News of the Universe.” The first film to explore Robert Bly’s life and art – as poet, translator, antiwar activist, guiding light of the men’s work movement, and all round cultural gadfly. Trailer uploaded by Haydn Reiss.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and in the spirit of men seeking to become better human beings, I thank him for his many gifts to sanity and culture and to myself personally.  I did not agree with all of his “Iron John” conclusions about manhood or with some of his reactions to the feminist movement, but I am deeply grateful for his many contributions to our awareness. 

I returned to my autobiography on hearing of his death, looked up “Robert Bly” in the Index, and found many references to him.  My book on the Sacred Masculine was inspired in part by his willingness to question what it means to be male in our culture.  When I heard he liked my book, I was pleased.

At my Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality, at Mundelein College in Chicago, he came each year to read his translations and comment on them–especially the mystical poet Kabir.  His fascination with eastern mystics preceded his “men’s work.”  

Robert Bly reads Antonio Machado from “On Being A Man.” Twin Cities Television 1989; from the film-in-process “Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy.” Uploaded by Haydn Reiss.

One day he said to me, “visiting other colleges around the country, I actually dream about ICCS.”  “Why?”  I asked.  “Your students here are on a spiritual journey so they understand what I am doing.  In most colleges, people are busy giving me grades on my poetry.” 

He invited me to be part of leading a grief ritual for Vietnam vets with him, Michael Meade, and Malidoma Some held in San Francisco.  Fourteen hundred people showed up and underwent a charged experience of letting go and grieving that culminated with a march to the water where people placed candles on an outside altar.  As we did this, a deluge ensued, and I turning to him, his white hair wet and droopy in the pouring rain, we said in unison, “the skies are grieving too.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 130, 162, 194f. 303f.

See also: Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Robert Bly at the Poetry Out Loud Minnesota Finals at the Fitzgerald Theater. Photo by Nic McPhee on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Were you affected by Bly’s poetry or translations of poets or work in the men’s movement?  What did you learn from him? 

Recommended Reading

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

15 thoughts on “A Thank You to Robert Bly<br>(1926-2021)”

  1. Avatar

    I didn’t know Robert Bly passed this week. Thanks for sharing and reflecting on his life, Rev. Dr. Fox!

    As a 3rd wave millennial Black feminist, I didn’t always agree with his views on masculinity/gender. However, I have a lot of respect for his work — the depth, the imagination, the emotional courage. And his compelling engagement with archetypes and stories has stimulated my own psychological imagination. I am grateful. May he rest in power.

  2. Avatar

    I have grown weary of our obsession with gender in our time. I have also come to believe that the Relationship at the Center of All is both gender-free and gender-full, so the best we can do is focus on Divine LOVE. Just my humble position as an old anonemoose monk. }:- a.m.

    1. Avatar

      I am not sure this addresses your comment, Patrick, but what I have come to see as I reflect on all the people I know is that gender is not divided into male and female; but that it is a sliding scale. (I know I’m not the first person to say this, by far!) And that our gender may vary from day to day, week to week. I wish this had been told to me as a young girl so that I could (throughout my life) honor, rather than question, my own various proclivities. I would have embraced all of myself, and I would have seen people as the fascinating kaleidoscopes they are.

  3. Avatar

    I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the same little town as Robert Bly. I never actually met him in person, but my brother, a seminarian at the time, did go to his farm for a visit, definitely in the 60’s. Robert Bly had a great reputation as a poet, and I was one who never really understood poetry. Christina Cleveland is a familiar name to me from a very powerful lecture she gave at CAC concerning white advantage. Now I see that my son also has connections, which I won’t reveal here.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jan, I too grew up in the 50’s and 60’s but in the deep south–that is Southern California, but I’m fascinated at the connection there is between yourself and Ms. Cleveland. I myself have had a person I know in my town write in who didn’t know I write here, but I let him know. And now you have let her know too! I like our on-line DM community!

  4. Avatar

    Really enjoyed today’s DM, the video clips of Robert Bly as well as the poetry readings voiced by Mathew from Robert’s book he referenced.

    One particular line spoken in today’s DM, keeps resounding, which is…
    “What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?”…

    This one question is beckoning further inquirey, especially the word “garden” as this can mean many different things!

    Thanks for sparking my creativity and my imagination, listening for what desires to rise to the surface in response to this poetic question.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I really enjoyed the DM today as well. The line, “What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?” sounds like a modern parable, like Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, where the master asks his servants, “What have you done with the ‘talents’ entrusted to you?” Then for some unrelated reason this line also brings to mind for me the line, “Strengthen the things that remain…” I don’t know why, it just came to mind. Blessings, Jeanette!

  5. Avatar

    To answer the question you pose, Matthew, I read Iron John in the 90s, as I was engaged in an Attitudinal Healing group in the Bay Area. Like you, I didn’t agree with everything Bly said; but he opened my eyes to the importance of ritual as a young man (or woman) crosses the threshold of adulthood. Seeing that I had not had any such initiation and that others had not, I wrote a play that appears on the surface to be a flat-out comedy because it pokes fun at our attempts at healing ourselves. The play is called “Cheap Food and Sex,” and in it the two adult characters share the rituals they have come up with to help themselves heal. Frank’s is based on the principles of Iron John. As wacky as Frank’s and Mars’ self-designed rituals appear on the surface, they manage to somewhat diminish the failure of society to provide the rituals growing humans need.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, I realize the need for ritual and have taken classes in ritual making with Starhawk, and then taught them myself. And more important that just ritual in general are rites of passage, and rituals of initiations. In one church where I use to teach early-teens in the Sunday School, we changed Confirmation into “Rites of Passage” and working from a “deeply ecumenical” perspective as part of their teaching we took the kids to a Buddhis temple, a Sikh temple, an Islamic Mosque, a Jewish Synagogue and a Greek Orthodox Church. You’re right, ritual is important for young men AND young women. Also, your play sounds very intriguing. I’d love to read or see it!

      1. Avatar

        Thank you, Richard. Actually “rites of passage” was the phrase I was looking for. “Rituals” is good, but “rites of passage” is what young people need as they approach adulthood. What your church did with them sounds wonderful. If you would like to read my play, you can contact me through my website “Contact” page; and you can read a synopsis of the play and an excerpt from it on this page of my website:

  6. Avatar
    Mary Gayle Floden-Selfridge,R N.,Ph D

    I cried when I read Robert had died.I attended a workshop that he and Marian Woodman were going to do together but she was unable to do it so several of us women were invited by Robert to attend the Men’s, there were only 3 of us and over 100 men.It was so powerful to hear their stories, their pain, it changed my life.I have also been fortunate to attend yours as well dear Natthew, as an elder of 79, I feel truly blessed to have had these spiritual gifts, blessings dear friend, Dr.Mary Gayle Floden-Selfridge

  7. Avatar

    I spent much of my middle years in the mythopoetic men’s movement, mentored by Robert Bly, Michael Meade, James Hillman and others. It was not only a renaissance of the male spirit, it acquainted me with the language of soul so missing in psychology. Deep in the Mendocino woods, drumming, dancing, hearing poetry, crying, laughing and opining in the company of men unafraid to be crazy and real, I felt initiated in a different order of masculinity. Thereafter my group, Everyman, hosted yearly men’s gatherings in Sacramento taking the men deep and sending them out in their own men’s groups. I titled my first book, “Death of a Hero, Birth of the Soul: Answering the Call of Midlife” because it was a movement of midlife men refusing to die in suits. Robert Blessed it with an endorsement. I don’t know where that energy has gone in a culture now steeped in toxic masculinity. Robert was a wildman and a wild poet. He woke up the wildness and the grief in all of us. RIP Robert.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you sooo much for sharing your experience in the men’s movement with us John, and your book sound like it is just made for men in midlife.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: