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Robert Bly
Bly at the "Poetry Out Loud" finals, Minnesota 2009
Bly at the "Poetry Out Loud" finals, Minnesota 2009
Born Robert Elwood Bly
(1926-12-23)December 23, 1926
Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, U.S.
Died November 21, 2021(2021-11-21) (aged 94)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
  • Poet
  • activist
Period 1962–2018
Subjects Masculinity
Literary movement
  • Deep image
  • Mythopoetic Men's Movement
Notable works
  • Iron John: A Book About Men
  • Silence in the Snowy Fields
  • The Light Around the Body
Carol McLean
(m. 1955; div. 1979)

Ruth Counsell (m. 1980)
Children 4, including Mary Bly

Robert Elwood Bly (December 23, 1926 – November 21, 2021) was an American poet, essayist, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. His best-known prose book is Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), which spent 62 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, and is a key text of the mythopoetic men's movement. He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.

Early life and education

Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, the son of Alice Aws and Jacob Thomas Bly, who were of Norwegian ancestry. Following graduation from high school in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving two years. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard University, joining other young persons who became known as writers: Donald Hall, Will Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Harold Brodkey, George Plimpton and John Hawkes. He graduated in 1950 and spent the next few years in New York.

Beginning in 1954, Bly studied for two years at the University of Iowa at the Iowa Writers Workshop, completing a master's degree in fine arts, along with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, and others. In 1956, he received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English. While there, he became acquainted with the work of a number of major international poets whose work was barely known in the United States. These included both Norwegians and writers from Spain, Latin America and elsewhere, among them Gunnar Ekelof, Harry Martinson, Georg Trakl, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, and Mirabai. He also connected with some of his family's relations.


Bly's early collection of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962, and its plain style had considerable influence on American poems of the next two decades. The following year, he published "A Wrong Turning in American Poetry", an essay.

In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war. When he won the National Book Award for The Light Around the Body, he contributed the prize money to the Resistance. During the 1970s, he published eleven books of poetry, essays, and translations. During the 1980s he published Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, The Wingéd Life: Selected Poems and Prose of Thoreau, The Man in the Black Coat Turns, and A Little Book on the Human Shadow.

Among his most famous works is Iron John: A Book About Men, an international bestseller which has been translated into many languages.

Personal life

Bly lived on a farm in Minnesota with his wife Carol (née McLean), whom he married in 1955, and their four children. Carol Bly was also a writer, winning awards for her short stories and novels. Robert and Carol divorced in 1979. Their daughter Mary Bly is a professor at Fordham University and author of romance novels. In 1980, Bly married Ruth Counsell. He was the stepfather to her two children. In 2012, his daughter Mary told Minnesota Public Radio that Bly had Alzheimer's disease. Bly died at his home in Minneapolis on November 21, 2021, at the age of 94.

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