In Memoriam Robert Bly (1926–2021)

November 23, 2021
A photograph of Robert Bly
Photo by Ann Arbor

When we heard the news of Robert Bly’s passing yesterday, our thoughts turned not only to his poetry but to his prolific career as a translator. In these pages alone, reviews of Bly’s translations or co-translations of poetry by César Vallejo, Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf, Tomas Tranströmer, Kabir Das, Vicente Aleixandre, Rolf Jacobsen, and Rainer Maria Rilke appeared between 1964 and 1981. Bly’s own poem “After the Funeral” appeared in our “Belief in an Age of Intolerance” issue (Nov. 2017). The following Rilke translation appeared in a 1972 essay entitled “American Poetry: On the Way to the Hermetic,” which offered Bly’s “notes on a series of five descents toward ‘the depths’” in hermetic poetry. In the fifth descent, rarely achieved, the outer world “has simply fallen away like a husk”—or perhaps a mortal coil. – Daniel Simon


Rainer Maria Rilke, “Buddha in Glory”

The core of every core, the kernel of every kernel,
an almond! held in itself, deepening in sweetness:
all of this, everything, right up to the stars
is the meat around your stone. Accept my bow.

O yes, you feel it, how the weights on you are gone!
Your husk has reached into what has no end,
and that is where the great saps are brewing now.
On the outside a warmth is helping,

for high, high above, your own suns are growing
immense and they glow as they wheel around.
Yet something has already started to live
in you that will live longer than the suns.

Translation from the German by Robert Bly
Books Abroad 46, no. 1 (Winter 1972): 24

A review of Bly’s Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke appeared in the Autumn 1981 issue of WLT.