Other-Meaning-Ness and Robert Bly’s Poem “Prophets”

Dear Reader,

Please read the following poem by Robert Bly.


There are fields of white roses

with prophets asleep in them—

I see their long black feet.

Please read it again, this time out loud. Done? Okay. Now, without thinking, tell me what it means. Hey! I said without thinking. Stuck? At a loss for words? If so, I’m pleased. Why? Because “Prophets” means nothing other than what it means: 20 syllables, or 17 words, or 3 lines arranged in a specific order. It means nothing? How is this possible? Because this poem taps readers where words don’t live, where it’s indefinable. It taps imagination or emotions or senses or….

It taps my imagination so I see curvaceously soft whiteness and thickly lopsided exclamation points. I don’t see a field of white roses with prophets asleep in them—but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. It also taps my senses/emotions, I’m not sure which it is. I feel its meaning in my chest when the words push against my sternum and expand me. It has “other-meaning-ness.”


Let me explain. I use Bly’s poem and the idea of “other-meaning-ness” not to make another “I-don’t-get-it” exercise, but to encourage you to trust your nonword responses to poems. If you read poems you’re sure you don’t like, I urge you not to try to like them, not to tell yourself that you’d like them if you were smarter. Also, if you read something you think is amazing, please don’t talk yourself out of your opinion. Hold on to your amazement. You’re entitled to it. 

“Prophets” appears in This Tree Will Be Here For A Thousand Years, by Robert Bly, NY: Harper & Row, 1979.


1 Response to “Other-Meaning-Ness and Robert Bly’s Poem “Prophets””

  1. 1 Debra Shirley 02/24/2009 at 6:04 am

    I love this post. I get it in on that “Other-meaning-ness” level of my being. Thanks, faye.

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February 2009
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Photo Credits: Header - Barbara McNichol, Author - Bernadette Garcia

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