An American Mystic in the East: Tracing the Origins of Robert Bly’s Interest in Persian Literary Tradition
Keywords:Hafez, mysticism, Robert Bly, Rumi
The American poet Robert Bly is among the most important literary figures in the second half of the 20th century. He worked in various capacities as a poet, translator, teacher and workshop organizer among other things, so much so that he is sometimes compared to Ezra Pound on account of the variety of his interests and the extent of his influence. Like Pound, Bly developed an interest in Asian poetic traditions, including that of Iran, and in doing so, he translated the poetry of Rumi (better known as Mowlana in Iran) and Hafez into English. The present study seeks to trace the paths through which Bly came to develop an interest in Persian mystical poetry and to demonstrate two concerns that guided and informed his interest in this tradition; that is, the socio-political vocation of the poet and the formal advantages of the poetic form known as Ghazal. Such concerns, it will be argued, are firmly rooted within the American literary tradition and therefore this study reveals the continuities that underlie Bly’s interest in Persian poetry, suggesting that he sometimes approached Persian poetry on his own terms, without paying proper attention to the context, a shortcoming that, as will be shown, is the result not of ignorance but what may be called methodological laxity.
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