Robert Bly is an American poet, author, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. His most commercially successful book to date was Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a key text of the mythopoetic men's movement, which spent 62 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list. He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.
Much of Bly's writing focuses on what he saw as the particularly troubled situation in which many males find themselves today. He understood this to be a result of, among other things, the decline of traditional fathering which left young boys unguided through the stages of life leading to maturity. He claimed that in contrast with women who are better informed by their bodies (notably by the beginning and end of their menstrual cycle), men need to be actively guided out of boyhood and into manhood by their elders. Pre-modern cultures had elaborate myths, often enacted as rites of passage, as well as "men's societies" where older men would teach young boys about these gender-specific issues. As modern fathers have become increasingly absent, this knowledge is no longer being passed down the generations resulting to what he referred as a Sibling Society. The "Absence of the Father" is a recurrent theme in Bly's work and many of the phenomena of depression, juvenile delinquency and lack of leadership in business and politics are linked to it.
Bly therefore sees today's men as half-adults, trapped between boyhood and maturity, in a state where they find it hard to become responsible in their work as well as leaders in their and communities. Eventually they might become weak or absent fathers themselves which will lead this behaviour to be passed down to their children. In his book The Sibling Society (1997), Bly argues that a society formed of such men is inherently problematic as it lacks creativity and a deep sense of empathy. The image of half-adults is further reinforced by popular culture which often portrays fathers as naive, overweight and almost always emotionally co-dependent. Historically this represents a recent shift from a traditional patriarchal model and Bly believes that women rushed to fill the gap that was formed through the various youth movements during the 1960s, enhancing men's emotional capacities and helping them to connect with women's age-old pain of repression. It has however also led to the creation of "soft males" which lacked the outwardly directed strength to revitalize the community with assertiveness and a certain warrior strength.
In Bly's view, a potential solution lies in the rediscovery of the meanings hidden in traditional myths and fairytales as well as works of poetry. He researched and collected myths that concern male maturity, often originating from the Grimms' Fairy Tales and published them in various books, Iron John being the best known example. In contrast to the continual pursuit of higher achievements, that is constantly tough to young men today, the theme of spiritual descent (often being referred to by its Greek term κατάβασις) which is to be found in many of these myths, is presented as a necessary step for coming in contact with the deeper aspects of the masculine self and achieving its full potential. This is often presented as hero, often during the middle of his quest, going underground to pass a period of solitude and sorrow in semi-bestial mode. Bly notices that a cultural space existed in most traditional societies for such a period in a man's life, in the absence of which, many men today go into a depression and alcoholism as they subconsciously try to emulate this innate ritual.