> His most famous, and most controversial, work was “Iron John,” which made the case that American men had grown soft and feminized.

What a bizarre take on Iron John.

First of all, Iron John is a work of amateur folklorology written in a poetic style. It's an extended meditation on a particular folk tale. As any student of folklore knows, the same folk narratives reappear across many time periods and cultures in different guises. That's part of what makes the field so fascinating. There's no direct reference in Iron John to "American men" or anything like that, although there are mentions of America in the same way that he also refers to medieval Norse culture, Polynesians, etc.

Second, if anything, Iron John is about recovering the divine masculine from the toxic wasteland of caricatured and commercialized masculinity. Bly's work is a complement, not a riposte, to the important work feminist writers have done in recovering the divine feminine. To reduce his work to making a case that men have "grown soft and feminized" is to fall into the same farce that Bly was fighting against.

Bly advocated for men to explore their psyches and deep feelings. Iron John connects men to eternal themes of masculinity through the lens of folk tales. Yes, some of those themes have to do with "traditional masculinity," e.g., being a warrior. But he does so with nuance and care, never by denigrating or attempting to confine women, and always while recognizing men's vulnerability.

If I were to summarize Iron John's main theme, it's that the inner child in men must eventually escape the metaphorical mother to discover the "inner hairy wild man" or "Iron John," which Bly describes as the masculine analogue to the feminine "inner hairy wild woman." It's a story about adolescence at its core. It's not even necessarily about biological sex or cisgendered identity, although Bly doesn't go out of his way to accommodate trans people or other gender expressions. (It's not exactly a work that's aged perfectly well.)

There are valid reasons why one could critique Bly's work. Some polemical claim about American men growing "soft" isn't one of them.

RIP, Mr. Bly.

Sorry to hear this. There is a lovely documentary about his life available at PBS:


“The Winged Energy of Delight” by Bly is an excellent selection of translations he did of poets from around the world. Rip, Mr Bly.
His work is awesome. I have heard his Iron John audio over a dozen times.

Good stuff he put out there for all of us!

I've only read some of Bly's poetry, as well as his famous essay "A Wrong Turning in American Poetry". The latter is an amazing critique of 20th century American poetry as a whole. It identifies a certain branching off, starting with T.S. Elliot and his contemporaries, in the general consensus of what poems should do and what makes a poem good. If you ever felt like you can't get into the poems of celebrated poets like Ezra Pound, William Carlos WIlliams and others, this essay may help you understand why. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrong_Turning_in_American_Po...
Sorry to hear this, not an exaggeration to place him on a pedestal at par with the one for Joe campbell, RIP
So how come there isn't a black bar at the top of hackernews despite the fact there's a 'has died' article on the front page? Not important enough? Not in a tech field?