nectarhoff: The Changing River

The Changing River

He Wanted to Live His Life Over
by Robert Bly

What? You want to live your life over again?
“Well, I suppose, yes…That time in Grand Rapids…
My life—as I lived it—was a series of shynesses.”

Being bolder—what good would that do?
“I’d open my door again. I’ve felt abashed,
You see. Now I’d go out and say, ‘All right,

I’ll go with you to Alaska.’ Just opening the door 
From inside would have altered me—a little. 
I’m too shy…” And so, a bolder life

Is what you want? “We could begin now. 
Just walk with me—down to the river.
I’ll pretend this boat is my life…I’ll climb in."


This poem is a dialogue between two voices. The first is marked with italics and the second with quotation marks. The italics give the sense that the first voice is internal, acting almost like the conscience of the second speaker, who is denoted by the more typical font and quotation marks. While the first voice is short and two the point, the abundance of caesurae in the hyphens, commas, and ellipses convey the hesitation of the primary speaker. After all, “My life—as I lived it—was a series of shynesses.” (3) Even the words, "series of shynesses” for example, sound shy; the words are hushed and whispered. But by the end of the poem the speaker has changed. He sounds more assertive, he has the last word. In the space of twelve lines a great transformation of character has taken place.

My favorite part of the poem, and why I wanted to write this to begin with, is the last two lines and the allusion I find there:

“Just walk with me—down to the river.
I’ll pretend this boat is my life…I’ll climb in.”

Heraclitus is supposed to have said “No man steps into the same river twice,” and that is just what I see in these two lines. The river becomes a symbol of change. Perhaps Bly didn’t intend this at all, but I hope that he would approve of my reading.

- 7/4/14

(nectarhoff)

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