Poet Robert Bly on The Great Persian Poets ; Hafez and Rumi ; Interviewed by Bill Moyers



welcome to the journal I want to introduce you to two people whose combined age is 172 years they've lived full and original lives and they're still going strong reminding me of the iconoclast HL Mencken who once said I go and working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs he had nothing on Grace Lee Boggs and Robert Bly I first met Robert Bly back in 1979 he was reading from his poetry at Cooper Union here in New York how amazed I am after working hard in the afternoon but when I sit down at the table with my elbows touching the elbows of my children so much love flows out and around in circles it wasn't hard to figure out why Bly was exerting such influence on aspiring American poets he already enjoyed a large following appealing to poetry lovers with powerful images of intimate subjects more of the fathers are dying each day it's time for the sons and the daughters bits of darkness are gathering around them and the bits of darkness appear as flakes of light why was daring inward and example he was also controversial in 1966 he had co-founded American riders against the Vietnam War and when he won the National Book Award two years later for the light around the body he contributed the prize money to the resistance over the years Robert Bly is rain's far and wide in his poems with 30 or more books touching on spiritual insights and deep and dark truths about American culture his iron John became an international bestseller and brought untold numbers of men to poetry it is a massive masculine shadow 50 male sitting together in Hall or crowded room lifting something indistinct up into the resonating night I've encountered Robert fly again and again at portree festivals and interviewed about the passions of his life including his work as an interpreter of the Islamic for its rubian ha faith my ego is stubborn often drunk you like my loving finally sensitive impatient confuse please take messages from one to the other he was in town me asleep and I invited him over to the studio he came bearing as always a satchel of books and eager to talk as always about poets and poetry welcome to the journal thank you I love what the English professor said about you last year he said Robert Bly is an important guy he's so famous I'm sometimes surprised to find he's still alive yeah I am surprised too do you ever wake up surprised that you were still here yes I do very much present company excepted who do you think's been the greatest American poet up to now well Walt Whitman you have to bring him in immediately why he does everything and whenever you have a certain person in another culture like India who is um trying to make us understand what religious in life is like in India they quote they quote Whitman when he begins calling out his beautiful lists of people that he loves and things that he loves the divine always comes into it so you just feel he is pretending to write about human beings and he's some sort of messenger from then from God you know when I first met you you were just barely fifty and you read this little poem you remember this one I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world I have wandered in the face for hours passing through dark fires and I have gone to the desert to the parched places to the landscape of zeros and I can't tell if this joy is from the body or the soul or a third place well that's very good you find that because if when you say what is the divine it's much simpler to say there is the body then there's a soul and then there's a third place have you figured out what that third place is thirty years later it's a place where all of the geniuses and the lovely people and the brilliant women in the all they all go there and they watch over us a little bit and once in a while they'll say drop that line it's no good sometimes when you do poetry especially if you do translate people like Hafez and with me you go almost immediately to this third world but we don't go there very often why and I suppose it's because we think too much about our houses and our places maybe I should read a kabir poem here which my dear Kabir support from India 14th century friend hope for the guests while you are alive jump into experience while you're alive think and think while you're alive what you call salvation belongs to the time before death if you don't break your whoops while you're alive do you think that ghosts will do it after the idea that the soul will joint with the ecstatic just because the body is rotten that's all fantasy what is found now is found them and if you find nothing now you will simply end up with an apartment in the city of death I was going through Chicago one time with the young port and we were rewriting it and he said if you find nothing now you will simile end up with a suite in the Ramada Inn of death it's very interesting to see how that thing really comes alive when you bring in terms of your own country you'll end up with a suite and they were mounting end of death if you make love with the divine now in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire so plunge into the truth find out who the teacher is believe in the great sound Kabir says this when the guest is being searched for see they don't use the word God capital G guest when the guest is being searched for it's the intensity of the longing for the guest that does all the work and he says look at me and you'll see a slave of that intensity so here's the first one that I ever went into who true religious ones you've been working a lot lately in Islamic post poems of Islam right and the Muslims have a great literature and fantastic ports roomy enough has have the guiding lights moving especially if American poetry for the last 5 or 10 years but also it seems to me that if we were doing so much attack upon the Muslim world criticise the Muslim world so much we should be able to give thanks for the genius that is there so this is Persian poetry or 14:14 the foods turned out by the factories of time and space are not all that great bring some wine because the good things of this world are not all that great the true kingdom comes to you without any breaking of bones if that weren't so achieving the garden through your own neighbors wouldn't be all that great in the five days remaining to you in this rest stop before you go to the grave take it easy give yourself time because time does not all and rate to more your Puritans on the stone floor you are not safe from the tricks of God zeal the distance between the cloister and the tavern we love is not all that great and last ages the name of Hafez has been well inscribed in the books but in our clan of disreputable the difference between profit and loss is not all that great do you see how he's withdrawing all our obsessions I've got to get this done I don't have much time left so he is a tremendous spiritual poetry let me understand the popularity of Rumi the 13th century mystical yes I like geniuses and Rumi was a genius yeah he was I'm going to give you one that I I didn't translated yeah I don't like it here I want to go back according to the old nose if you're absent from the one you love even for one second that ruins the whole thing there must be someone just to find one sign of the other world in this town would be helpful a few lad in Minneapolis just to find one sign of the other world in this town would be helpful you know the great Chinese cyber bird got caught in this net what can I do I'm only a man my desire body don't come strolling over this way sit where you are it's a good place when you want dessert you choose something rich when you choose wine you look for what's clear and firm what is the rest talking about what is the rest the rest of television what is the rest the rest is mirages and blurry pictures and milk mixed with water the rest of self-hatred and mocking other people in bombing so just be quiet and sit down through his news you're drunk and this is the edge of the roof it's a good poem even for the United States right now what look for what's clear and firm what is the rest the rest is mirages and blurry pictures and milk mixed with water that is a way to cheat in the old days the rest of self-hatred and mucking other people and bought me so just be quiet and sit down and have a good thing to say to Bush just require them sit down the reason is you're drunk and this is the edge of the roof you're mature life has been bracketed by two wars two long Wars Vietnam and Iraq and you wrote poems against the rock and you wrote poems against Vietnam and both of them went on yeah forth we didn't stop the war no it's never been able to do anything of that sort it merely speaks to the soul so the soul can remember so it's quite proper to have all the poems against the war and its proper not to be disappointed different nothing changes would you like me to read the poem I have against the this is probably the first poem written against the Iraq war in August of 2002 this was before the invasion yeah tell me why we don't lift our voices these days and cry over what is happening have you noticed the plans are made for a rock and ice cap is melting I say to myself go on cry what's the sense of being an adult and having no voice cry out see who will answer this is call an answer we'll have to call a special allowed to reach our angels who are hard of hearing they are hiding in the jugs of silence filled during our war I was thinking of Grenada I remember we invaded Grenada then why did we do that we'll have to call especially loud to reach our angels so a hard-of-hearing they are hiding in the jugs of silence filtering our wars if we agreed to so many wars that we can't escape from silence if we don't lift our voices we allow others who are ourselves to rob the house how come we listen to the great choirs Neruda Akhmatova through frederick douglass and now we're silent the sparrows in the little bushes it's a very bad pun but arrested him we are silent the sparrows in the little bushes some masters say our life only lasts seven days where are we in the week is it Thursday yet hurry cry now soon Sunday night will come and Sunday night came when we bought Baghdad where are we in the week is the Thursday yet hurry cry now soon Sunday night will come why isn't there more outcry if they were drafted the outcry would be just as great as it was in the in the Vietnam War many of the in the people getting killed are the sons of people in northern Minnesota or somewhere who don't have any access to protest but nedra's a disastrous choice like most of the other decisions he made and I go back to that acceptance speech you made in 1969 when you accepted the National Book Award but you gave your $1,000 prize to the resistance against Vietnam you said quote as Americans we have all witness is 1969 as Americans we have always wanted the life of feeling without the life of suffering we long for pure light constant victory we've always wanted to avoid suffering and therefore we are unable to live in the present hmm you think that's still true today yes isn't that amazing that it's happening that that the people in Washington are not suffering at all but the ones who are suffering are those those young men we had a bad education and and need escape somehow from the trap American – so they go there and get their legs now I'm thrown off you were to run a few months ago tell me about that yes they flew us to to Shiraz where officers grave is so we get up in the morning and we went to the grave and about 8 o'clock in the morning no children started to come maybe a third grade children and they stood around the little tomb and sang a poem of how physics yeah we need charming and then they went away and now some 5th graders came and they stood around the tomb and sang upon my fence and of course every poem of my fans is connected with the tune so you teach the children the tune and then they have the point so I said to himself isn't that unbelievable and why don't we do that why don't we go to the grave of Wahpeton and have children come there you don't selling it I do I don't have an answer why don't we because we don't we don't love we don't bring in while quitman and love him in the way that the Iranians bring in their poets and love them so that B grade of children could go to Walt Whitman's grave and recite little poems what do you think it would mean if we went to the graves of our points you'd bring the poets in the heart instead of having them in your head than graduate school and that's what you do in children you bring children in and they get associated with the heart when they're very small and then they can feel it all through their lives you've been talking and writing a lot lately about the greedy soul I'm glad you caught that read this I think more and more I've learned to respect the power of the phrase a greedy soul we all understand what is hinted at with that phrase is the purpose of a nation is to check the greedy soul in Nations it's a purpose of police to check the greedy Solent people we know our soul has enormous abilities and worship an intuition coming to us from a very ancient past but the greedy part of the soul what the Muslims call the nafs also receives its energy from a very ancient past the nafs is the covetous desirous shameless energy that steals food from neighbouring tribes once what it wants and is willing to destroy anyone who receives more good thing than itself in a writer in one sprays I wrote these three lines I live very close to my greedy soul when I see a book published two thousand years ago I check to see if my name is mentioned this is really true really done that yes I check that so in in writers the NAAFS often enters in in the issue of how much I do people love me how many people are reading my books that do people write about me and you understand that it probably affects you too in that way a service never know okay if the cover that soul feels that it's National sphere of influence is being threatened by another country it will kill recklessly and brutally impoverished millions order thousands of young men in its own country to be killed only to find out thirty years later that the whole thing was a mistake in politics the fog of war could be called the fog of the greedy soul you know the reason that that one says things like the greedy soul psychologically there's no point of this war at all it's not achieving anything never would achieve anything only something as mad as the greedy soul could want it to begin and continue it doesn't make any sense as you say the insanity of empire uh-huh you don't Robert you told me once many years ago that you tried to write a poem every day do you still do that yes it's a joyful thing especially when I'm doing the guzzles because then I can do a poem and when do I get a few stanzas done every day anyway here a couple of years that I like reread both of those thinking ways you've never thought before if a phone ring is think of it as carrying a message larger than anything you've ever heard faster than a hundred lines of Yeats think that someone may bring a beer to your door maybe wounded or deranged and think that a moves has risen out of the lake and he's carrying on his antlers a child of your own whom you've never seen when some one knocks on the door think that he's about to give you something large tell you you're forgiven or that is not necessary to work all the time or then it's been decided that if you lie down one will die so that's for you too isn't it and then someone knocks at the door think that he's about to give you something large and then to tell bill moyers that you've been forgiven then it's not necessary for you to work all the time or that has been decided that if you lie down no one will die so well that's a beautiful quality in you there feeling that you that it isn't right for you to lie down and I'm glad you're still working all the time what about this one this is one of your earliest that that you read to me many years ago and I wonder if it still resonates with you so my son Noah ten years old night and day arrived and day after day goes by and what does all remains old and what his young remains young and grows old the lumber pile does not grow younger now the two by fours lose their darkness but the old tree goes on the barn stands without help so many years the advocate of darkness and night is not lost the horse steps up swings on one leg turns its body the chicken flapping claws onto the roof its wings cramping and walloping but what is primitive is not to be shot out into the night in the dark and slowly the kind man comes closer loses his rage sits down at table that's the second stance in the end of it I can feel that when I was about 35 or 40 or so and I had children I I realized that what is primitive as me and me is not to be shot out all the time into the dark slowly the kind man comes closer loses his range some of it sits down a table so I am proud only of those days that pass an undivided tenderness when you said drawing or making books stapled with messages in the world or coloring a man with fire coming out of his hair this is my from my son Noah or we sit at the table with small key carefully poured so we pass our time together come and delight it who do you reconcile that in the end well what I've learned from the Muslims about the NAAFS helps me to understand that if I am demanding or or hopelessly aggressive with my children whenever that isn't me it's it's the nufs the green so the green is soul and that greedy soul is very powerful and doesn't want to be to be looked at and my hope is that the greedy soul will hear my words and understand it it isn't this as I am 80 years old how much more do I need ahead to obey the greedy soul isn't this enough you gotta die famous enough heaven I published enough books I remember the first time I came to see you back in the late 70s you were living in Moose Lake yeah there's a soda you still there let's tell him we have a house in Minneapolis but I sometimes go back up to Moose Lake when I want to be by myself you have a favorite from up there a favorite from muesli how about after drinking all night with a friend so that's good that sounds like moose lake yeah this is a poem from the 60s really friend and I went up to a lake up north and after drinking all night with a friend we go out and the boat had gone to sea you can write the Miss point this is Bill Duffy these pines these folks these rocks this water dark and touched by wind I am like you you dark boat drifting over water is fed by cool springs beneath the water since I was a boy I have dreamt of strange and dark treasures not of gold or strange stones but the to gift beneath the pale lakes of Minnesota this morning also drifting in the dawn wind I sense my hands and my shoes in this ink drifting is all of the body drifts above the clouds of the flesh in the stone a few friendships a few Dawn's a few glimpses of grass a few ores weathered by the snow and the heat so we drift toward shore over cold water no longer caring if we do logo Street so the last line is pretty good because it's got some you see something of them the hope that my nos will get smaller I didn't even know the word at that time but so we drift towards Shore over cold waters no longer caring if we do or go Street I like these three lines from the poem in your book my silence was a thousand years of joy you say Robert those high spirits don't prove you or a close friend of truth but you have learned to drive your buggy over the prairies of human sorrow how good you like that yeah I do so what now for you well I'm going to read something else you know I'm going to read this one poem before we quit stealing sugar from the castle this has the word joy we are poor students will stay after school to study joy we are like those birds in the India moment I'm a widow with child is the only joy the only thing I hold in my aunt like hand is the builders plan of the castle of sugar just to seal one grain of sugar is a joy translated in great poetry you know a way of stealing sugar the only thing I hold on my aunt like aunt is the builders plan of the castle of sugar just to steal one grain of sugar is a joy this is from the pale wolf like a bird we fly to darkness into the Hall which a liquid singing then fly out again being shut out of the warm hall is also enjoy I'm a laggard a loafer in an idiot might one of my boy said to me dad you're not alone for I am a laggard a loafer and an idiot but I love to read about those who caught one glimpse of the face and died 20 years later enjoy I don't mind your saying I will die soon even in the sound of the word soon I hear the word you which begins every sentence of joy you're a thief the John said let's see your hands I showed my calloused hands in court my sentence was a thousand years of joy are you happy at 80 yeah I'm happy I'm happy Aditi and I can't stand so much happiness it's not used to it your your Lutheran and sometimes maybe one day out of the week I'll become depressed but there isn't the time especially if I'm writing poetry I've never dressed what depresses you who knows depression comes up from underneath it just grabs you it's an entity on its own we're built for depression in a way because the nafse is so strong in us it doesn't want us to be happy and give away things and wants us to pull back inside and say my mother wasn't good enough to me my father wasn't good enough to me you know the whole dad's whole thing let's bring the circle round because when I first met you 30 years ago you told me this was a poem that had marked you remember it yeah I live my life in growing or mature which move out over the things in the world perhaps I will never achieve the last but that'll be my attempt well that's the various sixties isn't it I live my life and growing orbits which move out over the things of the world perhaps I can never achieve the last but that'll be my attempt this is writing Maria Rilke translated into German I am circling around God from the word medium nervous so he said love the ancient tower and I have been circling for a thousand years and I still don't know if I am a Falken or storm or a great song genius poem then the genius milky milky I am circling around God around the ancient tower and I have been circling for a thousand years there's a part of you that has been circling for a thousand years and you yeah all of us yeah and those that goes we don't know the source of that's right and that wonderful energy that you can see in the human face even when walking down the street in New York you see this incredible energy that's inside there and it's being blocked all the time by family and business and all of that but it's still there circling around God around the ancient Tower and I have been circling for a thousand years and I still don't know if I am a which means someone who goes in and grabs things and steals them or storm storm circle true or a great song well we both hope that we're great sewing bye I'm glad I've heard sauna thank you they're so wonderful to be with you same here thank you

26 thoughts on “Poet Robert Bly on The Great Persian Poets ; Hafez and Rumi ; Interviewed by Bill Moyers

  1. For Those Arguing About The Origin of Rumi Here:
    With due respect, the history of Afghanistan as a state began in 1747 with its establishment by Ahmad Shah Durrani. Prior to that, Afghanistan was part of Iran; that is the reason that they speak Persian or “Parsi / Farsi”. Plus, if you refer to Rumi’s Lamenting poems regarding the Mongols attacking his land Iran, then you will stop arguing on this topic.

    In any case, it is great that many like to own a piece of Rumi; this is a reflection of his amazing achievement and influence. Rumi’s love, spiritual beauty and enlightenment is shared not only by all Persian language speaking brothers and sisters in neighboring countries, but by the whole planet: HE BELONGS TO HUMANITY IN GENERAL.

  2. For you Who faithing about Mulana Rumi Who is not Persian, , just read his poem all are made in the beautiful persians Language nothing else, no arabic no turkish not one single Word in turkish or arabic, just read his poem you find ut he is a pure Persian PAYANDE IRAN ZAMIN SARZAMINE ARYA

  3. I have read some of the comments and could tell how many of you just heard the name Rumi. fIRST OF ALL, HE IS NOT IRANIAN. Now let's talk about his poetry being Persian, Farsi which meant at the time of him being alive, he came from Balkh which nowadays its one of the cities in Afghanistan. His written poetry is Pure Farsi; what Afghanistanis Dari/Farsi language literature is based. But he himself, in one of his poetry says 'Nor am I Balkhi nor from Rome, I am from Earth"
    So stop claiming a genius into one country that British has aligned the border for.

  4. People in the comments section enraged by rumi and hafez being called “Islamic poets”, obviously never read rumi, hafez, Kabir etc. They frequently cite the Quran and Prophet Muhammad. It’s amusing to see how people jump to comment on something they know little about and is so irrelevant. Bly makes such beautiful points and quotes things that ought to inspire reflection for the soul. It sad to see people so filled with hate. They badly need to open a book or two of Rumi! ☺️ 📚

  5. "It is the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit that causes words such as these (lines from the poet Hafiz) to stream from the tongue of poets, the significance of which they themselves are oftentimes unable to apprehend." – The Bab, The Dawnbreakers, Baha'i Faith

  6. Poets delight in poetry – Light delights in Light… Genius awakens Genius. Edward FitzGerald translator and adapter of The Ruba'iya't of Omar Khayya'm commented "Hafez and Khayya'm ring like true metal". How true. Our thanks to Robert Bly. Charles Mugleston Omar Khayyam Theatre Company

  7. you guys leave all the great things said here and focus on the " islamic poet " part. Enjoy and rejoice that people love and praise our poetry

  8. This is nothing to do with the religion. They inherited Iranian/Persian culture. It look like calling Shekspear a Christian writer. ..why islam didn't have such an influence on the other islamic countries? Find the answe for yourself…

  9. Rumi and Hafez are Iranian/ as westerns called persian poet who was escaping mongol and Turk warmongers and seeking peace.

  10. ISLAMIC POETS… way to ruin a reputation… They're PERSIAN poets . No one would say Shakespeare was a CHRISTIAN poet

  11. Cannot believe how many ignorant people are commenting here.
    Rumi and Hafiz are both SUFI poets—all their poems are centered in the Sufi philosophy and mystical viewpoint.
    For those that say they should not be referred to by their spiritual path—
    It is like saying Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are Israeli writers, not Christian…

    Perhaps if the people commenting here BOTHERED to read up on the Sufi tradition, they would know that the term SUFI POET is the correct term for both men—every poem they write celebrates their mystical vision of love, harmony, beauty and unity.

  12. Persians are not Muslims. One is a racial identity and the other a religion. Even those poets were against Islam. Persian Zoroastrian poets living under the oppression of an Islamic caliphate. Hafez hated Islam and the mullahs. Only the elite Persians can understand that through his layered and Islam stabbing poetry.

  13. No one wants to admit that Rumi was force converted and a slave under the Ottomans. The name Rumi means "The Roman" – a name referred to Christians from Roman background. The name Rumi would never have been given to a muslim. His family fled country after country from muslim invaders until they ended up in Turkey. There is very little known about Rumi's life to clarify why he ended in Turkey. Turkey used to be one of the most significant seat of Christianity in the world (Constantinople) until the muslims brutally and very aggressively conquered it and force-converted the people. Only the rich could escape forced conversion by paying tax. Young children to rich non-Muslim merchants had to pay jizya (blood-money) to stay alive. Their children had to be offered to muslim rulers and were placed all over society, including as professors and teachers of religions, after they had been force-converted to Islam. It was a slave system they could not escape.

  14. If you enjoy Persian poetry, you may be interested in my book that's due to be published this year (probably in October, perhaps a little sooner). Here are some sample poems (found on WordPress):

    1. Amsterdam Park
    2. Meditation
    3. Shattered Mirror
    4. It Used to Matter
    5. My Wife
    6. Everywhere
    7. Human Consciousness
    8. The More and Emptiness
    9. I Dreamt Once…
    10. The Whole Artwork
    11. Lucid Streams of Deference
    12. The Young Man
    13. More Beautiful Differences
    14. Rain
    15. Red Cottage Days
    16. Lovely Sun
    17. The Proof
    18. Purify Purify
    19. You Sit, Face Averted
    20. You're Lying There Still Asleep
    21. Poem For a Friend
    22. Poem For the World
    23. Picture of Me
    24. Come and Tell Me, Death
    25. Companion of Christmas Trees
    26. Pain
    27. Blossoming From the Ground of Your Truth
    28. Billowing Rain on a Sunday
    29. I Have Been Moved

  15. People like him and others make great injustice to Persian literature. By the fact he called them Islamic shows that he has not much knowledge about the poets. I wish they would first try to learn the language, so they would have better understanding of the literature. So sad that these guys are the professors of such a historical and old literature.

  16. حاصل کارگه کون و مکان این همه نیست

    باده پیش آر که اسباب جهان این همه نیست

    از دل و جان شرف صحبت جانان غرض است

    غرض این است وگرنه دل و جان این همه نیست

    منت سدره و طوبی ز پی سایه مکش

    که چو خوش بنگری ای سرو روان این همه نیست

    دولت آن است که بی خون دل آید به کنار

    ور نه با سعی و عمل باغ جنان این همه نیست

    پنج روزی که در این مرحله مهلت داری

    خوش بیاسای زمانی که زمان این همه نیست

    بر لب بحر فنا منتظریم ای ساقی

    فرصتی دان که ز لب تا به دهان این همه نیست

    زاهد ایمن مشو از بازی غیرت زنهار

    که ره از صومعه تا دیر مغان این همه نیست

    دردمندی من سوخته زار و نزار

    ظاهرا حاجت تقریر و بیان این همه نیست

    نام حافظ رقم نیک پذیرفت ولی

    پیش رندان رقم سود و زیان این همه نیست

  17. I think they are wrong for putting omar khayyam and hafiz s poetries in islamic catagory. Im persian and grew up with their poetry. Islamic beliefs have not any place in their works so please dont present them as islamic poetry to western people

  18. All these poets (Rumi and Hafiz) were adherent Muslim and very practicing one. Nowadays most persian want to Isolate themselve from Islam and create there own separate identity, But know this we muslims were one and for me my persian bretheren are equally muslim and Islamic like an Arab or a Indian. Don't be divided and don't divide sufism from Islam.

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