The Third Body – Robert Bly – Analysis

The Third Body

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

This is a poem about an elderly couple sitting on a park bench just totally content in the moment not looking for anything else in life just happy to be together in their comfortable known self. Perhaps they have been married for many years and know each other intimately. So this is really a poem about love, love that has grown from long term companionship. And love exist in in their silence. Perhaps love can always be found in the silence of life that speaks to us continually.

Between then they are one body although a couple. They both share in the one book being held in their hands as it is passed between them. But they are connected to a third common body. And this is the question asked by the poem –

Their breaths together feed  – but who? And a very living body that needs them, feed appears in two lines
They obey a third body – but to whom is their allegiance? And a promise made
someone we know of –attributes known – heard about but never seen … who is the poet talking about?

Like or great poems there is no answer other than in the mind of the reader.

so what can this body be –
perhaps it is marriage itself
their heritage
family
perhaps life
love
the body of goodness
or maybe spiritual connections
the bigger unity withing existence
Jesus or even God

Going back to the couple on the bench and both hands together with the book. Why do you think a book was chosen? And how is the book significant in their relationship? What a difference if it was a ham sandwich.

But there is certainly a feeling that this third body is connected in some way to death. The couple are at that stage when death is on the radar. There is a comfortable feeling associated with this connection and they have added their own personal value to this Third Body throughout their lifetime. They are happy and at peace with the world.

Robert Bly on Wikipedia

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