Wild Thing

A new kind of animal stalks the land these days. If you listen closely, you can hear its strange call: chest-thumping roars alternating with keening wails and abundant sniffles. And if you look carefully, you'll doubtless soon spot one, for they clone faster than jackrabbits. This new critter is now all around us, and the poet Robert Bly has provided a field manual to aid in its identification.

The animal in question is the New American Male (1990's), a dusted-off Gary Cooperesque stalwart (1950's) who's not afraid to cry in public (1970's), a thirty-something hybrid (1980's) who combines the sensibilities of Alan Alda, John Wayne, and Pee-Wee Herman. He travels in packs. He can often be found in woodland retreats, pounding on tom-toms (1960's) and weeping over his failure to connect with his taciturn father. Our shellshocked Boy Scout likes to call himself a "wild man," to doff his cordovan wingtips and grey suit of a weekend and roam the dark forests, barefoot, T-shirted.

Robert Bly, a poet and translator of great distinction, has at the age of 65 discovered that he, too, is a wild man. In Iron John—its tide is taken from a European rite-of-passage folktale that can be found in the pages of the Brothers Grimm and, in far too many permutations, in the book under review—Bly laments the rise of the modern pasty, malleable, "soft man," pounded into...

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