Dec. 23, 2003

So Be It, Amen

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "So Be It. Amen.," by Robert Bly, from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (Harper Collins).

There are people who don't want Kierkegaard to be
A humpback, and they're looking for a wife for Cézanne.
It's hard for them to say, "So be it. Amen."

When a dead dog turned up on the road, the disciples
Held their noses. Jesus walked over and said:
"What beautiful teeth!" It's a way to say "Amen."

If a young boy leaps over seven hurdles in a row,
And an instant later is an old man reaching for his cane,
To the swiftness of it all we have to say "Amen."

We always want to intervene when we hear
That the badger is marrying the wrong person,
But the best thing to say at a wedding is "Amen."

The grapes of our ruin were planted centuries
Before Caedmon ever praised the Milky Way.
"Praise God," "Damn God" are all synonyms for "Amen."

Women in Crete loved the young men, but when
"The Son of the Deep Waters" dies in the bath,
And they show the rose-colored water, Mary says "Amen."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and editor Harriet Monroe, born in Chicago, Illinois (1860). She founded Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in Chicago in 1912.

It's the birthday of the founder of scientific Egyptology, Jean Francois Champollion, born in Figeac, France (1790). He is credited with unlocking the code of the Rosetta Stone, an ancient language key discovered near Alexandria in 1799. By determining that the hieroglyphic symbols represented sounds as well as concepts, depending on their context, he resurrected an ancient Egyptian language that had been dead for thousands of years.

It's the birthday of poet, translator and editor Robert Bly, born in Madison, Minnesota (1926). He has written over thirty books of poetry, including Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1987), The Light Around the Body (1967), and Iron John: A Book for Men (1990). He served in the Navy during World War II, spent a year at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and then entered Harvard University. It was here, he later said, "I learned to trust my obsessions. . . . One day while studying a Yeats poem I decided to write poetry the rest of my life."

Bly said, "I think a poem (also) is a dream, a dream which you are willing to share with the community. It happens a writer often doesn't understand a poem until some months after he's written it--just as a dreamer doesn't understand a dream. Being a poet in the United States has meant for me years of confusion, blundering, and self-doubt. The confusion lies in not knowing whether I am writing in the American language or the English or, more exactly, how much of the musical power of Chaucer, Marvell, and Keats can be kept in free verse. Not knowing how to live, or even how to make a living, results in blunders. And the self-doubt comes from living in small towns."

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