An American Mystic in the East: Tracing the Origins of Robert Bly’s Interest in Persian Literary Tradition


  • Fazel Asadi Amjad Kharazmi University
  • Kamran Ahmadgoli Kharazmi University
  • Qadir Haqiqatshenas Kharazmi University



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.

Author Biographies

Fazel Asadi Amjad, Kharazmi University

English Language and Literature Department

Kamran Ahmadgoli, Kharazmi University

English Language and Literature Department

Qadir Haqiqatshenas, Kharazmi University

English Language and Literature Department


Barks, Coleman. (2014). Rumi: soul fury; Rumi and Shams Tabriz on friendship. HarperOne, EPUB.

Barone, Dennis. (1982). Under the silence of the unfinished work. boundary 2, 10.2, 115-134.

Beisner, Robert L. (1970). 1898 and 1968: The anti-imperialists and the doves. Political Science Quarterly, 85.2, 187-216.

Biespiel, David. (2010). This land is our land. Poetry, 196.2, 151-158.

Bjorklund, Beth. (1995). Form, anti-form, and informality: Reinventing free verse. Poetics Today, 16.3, 547-567.

Bleiker, Roland. (1999). Pablo Neruda and the struggle for political memory. Third World Quarterly, 20.6, 1129-1142.

Bly, Robert and Leonard Lewisohn. (2008). The angels knocking on the tavern door: Thirty poems of Hafez. HarperCollins.

Bly, Robert. (1975). Leaping poetry: An idea with poems and translations. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Bly, Robert. (1993). Neruda and Vallejo: Selected poems. Beacon Press. EPUB.

Bly, Robert. (2004). The winged energy of delight: Selected translations. HarperCollins.

Bond, Bruce. (2015). Immanent distance: Poetry and the metaphysics of the near at hand. University of Michigan Press.

Bratt, Christina and Robert Bly. (1962-1963). Translations from Gunnar Ekelöf. The Hudson Review, 15.4, 546-550.

Brown, Maurice F. (1973). William Vaughn Moody (1869-1910). American Literary Realism, 1870-1910, 6.1, 51-60.

Chamberlain, Lori. (1985). Ghostwriting the text: Translation and the poetics of Jack Spicer. Contemporary Literature, 26.4, 426-442.

Dana, Robert. (1990). In the labyrinth: Poetry as prose; Prose as poetry. The North American Review, 275.3, 72-80.

Daruwalla, Keki N. (2001). Identity: Language, literature, writer. Indian Literature, 45.2, 168-176.

Elmarsafy, Ziad. (2013). User-friendly Islams: Translating Rumi in France and the United States. In Evelyn A. Alsultany and Ella H. Shohat (eds.) Between the middle east and the Americas: The cultural politics of diaspora. The University of Michigan Press, 264-281.

Faas, Ekbert and Robert Bly. (1976). An interview with Robert Bly. boundary 2, 4.3, 677-700.

Faas, Ekbert. (1976). Robert Bly. boundary 2, 4.3, 707-726.

Fiegenbaum, J.W. Al-Ḥallāj. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved June 03, 2021. available online at:

Finch, Annie. (2005). The body of poetry: Essays on women, form, and the poetic self. University of Michigan Press.

Ghazoul, Ferial J. (1986). The poetics of the political poem. Arab Studies Quarterly, 8.2, 104-119.

Gioia, Dana. (1987). The successful career of Robert Bly. The Hudson Review, 40.2, 207-223.

Greeley, Dana McLean. (1974). Review of Thoreau: Mystic, prophet, ecologist, by William Wolff. The Concord Saunterer, 9.2, 18.

Gwiazda, Piotr. (2005). ‘Nothing else left to read’: Poetry and audience in Adrienne Rich’s an atlas of the difficult world. Journal of Modern Literature, 28.2, 165-188.

Hetherington, Paul and Cassandra Atherton. (2020). Prose poetry: An introduction. Princeton University Press.

Hickman, Ben. (2015). Crisis and the US avant-garde; Poetry and real politics. Edinburgh University Press.

Horvath, Brooke. (1992). The prose poem and the secret life of poetry. The American poetry review, 21.5, 11-14.

Kashani, Neda Ali Zadeh. (2014). Adrienne Rich’s ghazals and the Persian poetic tradition: A study of ambiguity and the quest for a common language. Università Degli Studi Di Macerata.

Kooser, Ted. (1994). Review: Five chapbooks out of many. The Georgia Review, 48.4, 812-821.

Lehman, David. (2003). The prose poem: An alternative to verse. The American Poetry Review, 32.2, 45-49.

Libby, Anthony. (1972). Robert Bly alive in darkness. The Iowa Review, 3.3, 78-89.

Liro, Joseph. (1992). Stanislaw Lem in translation: A linguistic commentary. The Polish Review, 37.1, 45-72.

Lorca, F. G. (2007). Selected poems. Translated by Martin Sorrel. Oxford University Press.

Masroori, Cyrus. (2010). An Islamic language of toleration: Rumi’s criticism of religious persecution. Political Research Quarterly, 63.2, 243-256.

McFarland, Ron. (1997). ‘Another kind of violence’: Sherman Alexie’s poems. American Indian Quarterly, 21.2, 251-264.

Mojaddedi, Jawid. Ḥallāj, Abu’l-MoḠiṮ Ḥosayn. In Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2003, XI/6, pp. 589-592. Retrieved June 02, 2021. available online at

Molesworth, Charles. (1975). Thrashing in the depths: The poetry of Robert Bly. Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 29.3/4, 95-117.

Morrissey, Sinead. (2003). War on Iraq: Against all rhyme and reason. Fortnight, 413, 16-17.

Moyers, Bill. (1995). The language of life: A festival of poets. Doubleday.

Najjari, Mohammad and Kamel Ahmadnejad. (2013). Hallaj in the works of Rumi (AKA Mowlana). Mystical and Mythological Quarterly. 3.32, 219-231. [In Persian].

Qualey, M. Lynx. (2012). Form and sensuality. American Book Review, 34.1, 13-14.

Quinn, Francis. (2000). Robert Bly: The art of poetry. The Paris Review. Retrieved June 5, 2021. Available online at:

Sadoff, Ira. (1980). The power of reflection: The reemergence of the meditative poem. The American Poetry Review, 9.6, 18-21.

Sajé, Natasha. (2014). Windows and doors: A poet reads literary theory. University of Michigan Press.

Shakarchi, Joseph and Robert Bly. (1982). An interview with Robert Bly. The Massachusetts Review, 23.2, 226-243.

Sjöberg, Leif. (1970). The latter poems of Gunner Ekelöf: Diwan and Fatumeh. Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, 4.2, 101-115.

Smith, Thomas R. (2013). AIRMAIL: The letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer. Graywolf Press. EPUB.

Soroush, Abdolkarim. (2006). Jalaluddin Rumi: The son of the sun. in Jahrbuch 2004/2005. Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

Stitt, Peter. (1980). Review: The world at hand. The Georgia Review, 34.3, 661-670.

Suarez, Ernest. (1991). Emerson in Vietnam: Dickey: Bly and the New Left. The Southern Literary Journal, 23.2, 77-97.

Taylor, John. (2002). Review of The night Abraham called to the stars, by Robert Bly. Poetry, 180.1, 45-47.

Weinstein, Michael A. (2006). The imaginative prose of Oliver Wendell Holmes. University of Missouri Press.

Yenser, Stephen. (1982). Sea changes: On Dave Smith. The American Poetry Review, 11.1, 32-35.