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Robert Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen"

Updated on August 23, 2016
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Robert Bly


Morning Poems

Morning Poems
Morning Poems

This collection includes "The Cat in the Kitchen" under the title "The Old Woman Frying Perch."



A paraphrase of Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen" might be, "A man falling into a pond is like the night wind which is like an old woman in the kitchen cooking for her cat."

First Versagraph: "Have you heard about the boy who walked by"

In Robert Bly's "The Cat in the Kitchen," the first verse paragraph 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 Versaph: "There was no"

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 a little like the night wind, which is soft"

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?

So, now that you have asked: "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.

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."

Robert Bly dedicates this piece to former poet laureate Donald Hall.

Bly reading 3 of his pieces

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 16 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 16 months ago from Hyderabad, India

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