Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Introduction to "Waking on the Farm" by Robert Bly

1) Bly, Robert. “Waking on the Farm.” A Prairie Home Companion. Host Garrison Keillor. National Public Radio. 24 April 1999: 25:41. <http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/19990424/>

This was tricky to cite—it’s actually not on the Internet in text, but if you visit the link above and click on the segment “22:56 – Applause – GK Intro Robert Bly” you’ll be able to listen to it in the archives of A Prairie Home Companion. Robert Bly himself reads it, and if your audio player will let you fast-forward, it’s about 2:28 minutes in. Failing that, I think it's included in the book, Morning Poems by Robert Bly.

2) This poem is about waking on a farm, as you would never guess from the title. The speaker describes the bareness and stark quality of the morning with details like frosted grass crunching beneath their steps, and a cold tractor. The way the morning is described, it seems almost like the speaker is in another world in the morning, but as the day warms up things become more normal. In the end, though, when they're washing up from the morning's work, "the water kept something in it of the early morning."

3) My favorite thing about the poem is this excerpt: "Breathing seemed frail and daring in the morning. / To pull in air was like reading a whole novel." That, all by itself, captures the whole feeling of being awake and outside in the early morning, particularly in the winter when it's about six degrees out and everything seems deserted. That is my semi-daily walk to my 8AM class exactly. The poem may be set on a farm, but I think it's universal. Even CCSU's campus has this same empty, unearthly feeling in the early hours of the morning, far removed from rural Minnesota as it is. (Robert Bly is a Minnesotan poet. That's another more superficial reason I like his poetry; I'm from Minnesota, too, so sometimes it feels like, "Hey, he's writing right from my backyard!")

4) This poem is sort of like Billy Collins' "Morning" on page 116 of our anthology. They're both about morning and embody a certain sort of energy. But while Bly's morning is unearthly, cold, and strange, Collins seems more grounded in normalcy. In Collins' version, the morning is buzzing with very normal routines like vitamins and coffee, and it's at the end where things get a little weird: "heavy clouds on the way / and the lawn steaming like a horse / in the early morning" (lines 19-21). On the other side, Bly's morning melts into a more normal day, and the cold water the speaker washes up with is the only reminder of the strangeness of the morning. In a way, I think this is kind of illustrates two different ways of viewing poetry. One way, poetry might be grounded in familiar things of every day, but use these to leap off into larger themes. The other way, poetry is the reinvention of those familiar, every-day things from the very outset, making us re-define or re-imagine things and find meaning in that.

Collins, Billy. "Morning." The Norton Introduction to Poetry. Ed. J. Paul Hunter, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays. 9th edition. New York: Norton, 2007. 116.


jgchurch111 said...

I liked your introduction. I enjoy listening to public radio too, so its nice to know that I'm not the only one! The contrast between "Morning on the Farm" and Billy Collin's version of morning is very interesting. Personally I've experienced some of each kind- waking up at dawn when the dew is still on the grass to put in a long day of manual labor, and also waking up and enjoying some espresso as I prepare to embark on some intellectual work. It makes me wonder which type I like better. They are both wonderful, so long as I have at least 8 1/2 hrs of sleep the night before.

woodstl said...

Not being able to access the link that you posted due to technical errors, I will just comment on Collin's poem. I loved it! In fact, I choose his poem to do an LE (with the word "buzzing"). I love the adrenaline the speaker is experiencing that encourages this espresso/ morning enduced buzzing. It's so articially, yet so natural. I wonder if "Morning on the Farm" employs some of that. I wish I could read it.

Marissa said...

Sorry for taking so long to follow up. I've scoured the internet and can't find it written out anywhere, but I've got a book on hand now, so I'll type it up here. (It's pretty short.) Of course, it will probably be completely visually distorted given the width of the comment screen....

"Waking on the Farm" by Robert Bly
I can remember the early mornings--how the stubble,
A little proud with frost, snapped as we walked.

How the John Deere tractor hood pulled heat
Away from our hands when we filled it with gas

And the way the sun brought light right out of the ground.
It turned on a whole hill of stubble as easily as a single store.

Breathing seemed frail and daring in the morning.
To pull in air was like reading a whole novel.

The angleworms, turned up by the plow, looked
Uneasy like shy people trying to avoid praise.

For a while we had goats. They were like turkeys
Only more reckless. One butted a red Chevrolet.

When we washed up at noon, we were more ordinary.
But the water kept something in it of the early morning.

Mrs. Bedwin said...

Thanks for posting the words!
I must say, i think I'm in love with the imagry in this poem. I especially appreciated the lines, " I can remember the early mornings/how the stubble/
A little proud with frost, snapped as we walked", and the fact that the grass is refered to as "stbble" and also called proud, because it is able to stand up so tall, thanks to the frost. I genuinly felt as if I were experiencing this early morning with the speaker.