Robert Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen"

Updated on February 1, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Robert Bly

Source

Introduction and Text of Piece, "The Cat in the Kitchen"

Robert Bly's penchant for nonsense knows no bounds. Most of his pieces of doggerel suffer from what seems to be an attempt to engage in stream-of-consciousness but without any actual consciousness.

The following paraphrase of Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen" demonstrates the poverty of thought this poetaster suffers as he churns out his doggerel: A man falling into a pond is like the night wind which is like an old woman in the kitchen cooking for her cat.

The Cat in the Kitchen

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.

There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.

Commentary

The two versions of this piece that are extant both suffer from the same nonsense: the speaker seems to be spouting whatever enters his head without bothering to communicate a cogent thought. Unfortunately, that description seems to be the modus operandi of this poetaster.

The version titled "The Cat in the Kitchen" has three versagraphs, while the one titled "The Old Woman Frying Perch" boasts only two, as it sheds one line by combining lines six and seven from the Cat/Kitchen version.

(Please Note: "Versagraph" is a term I coined; it is the conflation of "verse" and "paragraph," the primary unit of free verse, as opposed to the "stanza," the primary unit for rimed/metered verse. Also note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

First Versagraph: A Silly Question

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.

In Robert Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen," the first versagraph begins with a question: "Have you heard about the boy who walked by / The black water?" Then the speaker says, "I won't say much more," when, in fact, he has only asked a question. If he is not going to say much more, he has ten more lines in which not to say it.

However, he then makes an odd demand of the reader: "Let's wait a few years." The speaker seems to be suggesting that readers stop reading the piece in the middle of the third line. Why do they have to wait? How many years? By the middle of the third line, this piece has taken its readers down several blind alleys. So next, the speaker, possibly after waiting a few years, begins to dramatize his thoughts: "It wanted to be entered."

It surely refers to the black water which is surely the pond in the fourth line. The time frame may, in fact, be years later because now the speaker claims, "sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand / Reaches out and pulls him in." The reader cannot determine that the man is the boy from the first line; possibly, there have been any number of unidentified men whom the hand habitually stretches forth to grab.

Second Versagraph: Lonely Lake Needing Calcium

There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?

The second verse paragraph offers the reasoning behind a pond reaching out its hand and grabbing some man who is walking by: "There was no / Intention, exactly." It did not exactly intend to pull him in, but it "was lonely, or needed / Calcium, bones would do."

Then the speaker asks a second question: "What happened then?" This question seems nonsensical because it is the speaker who is telling this tale. But the reader might take this question as a rhetorical device that merely signals the speaker's intention to answer the question that he anticipates has popped into the mind of his reader.

Third Versagraph: It Was Like What?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.

Now the speaker tells the reader what it was like. There is a lack of clarity as to what the pronoun "it" refers, but readers have no choice but take "it" to mean the phenomenon of the pond reaching out its hand, grabbing a man who was walking by, and pulling him into the water because it was lonely or needed calcium.

Thus this situation resembles what? "It was a little like the night wind, which is soft, / And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman / In her kitchen late at night, moving pans / About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat." Now you know what would cause a lonely, calcium deficient pond reach out and grab a man, pull him into its reaches, and consequently devour him.

Alternate Version: "The Old Woman Frying Perch"

In a slightly different version of this work called "Old Woman Frying Perch," Bly used the word "malice" instead of "intention". And in the last line, instead of the rather flabby "making some food for the cat," the old woman is "frying some perch for the cat."

The Old Woman Frying Perch

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won’t say much more.
Let’s wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in. There was no
Malice, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium. Bones would do. What happened then?

It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, frying some perch for the cat.

For Donald Hall

While the main problem of absurdity remains, this piece is superior to "The Cat in the Kitchen" because of two changes: "malice" is more specific than "intention," and "frying perch" is more specific than "making food."

However, the change in title alters the potential focus of each piece without any actual change of focus. The tin ear of this poetaster has resulted in two pieces of doggerel, one just a pathetic as the other.

Robert Bly dedicates this piece to former poet laureate, Donald Hall—a private joke, possibly?

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments, Questions, Suggestions

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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      Linda Sue Grimes 21 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Robert Bly is perhaps the most overrated poetaster ever to appear on the poetry scene. I feel it a duty to alert the unsuspecting about such charlatans.

      Thank you for your response, Venkatachari M!

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 21 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting review of his poetry "The Cat in the Kitchen".

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