Sophia in Nature – Interview with poet Robert Bly by Roar Bjonnes
An interview with poet Robert Bly on ecology, spirituality, and the capitalist market-place..
Bjonnes: You have written extensively about the descending path of spirituality--our love for nature--whereas the
ascending path focuses on our love for God. Wouldn't it be good to find a balance between the two?
Bly: Well, that ís obvious. But the ascending path has been so strong that people often forget what the descending
path is all about.
Bjonnes: Through eco-psychology, spiritual ecology and ecofeminism, the descending path is getting a new
Bly: Yes, I agree. The metaphor for the descending path is the descent of Sophia. According to the Gnostic
religion, Sophia looked down upon this planet of ours and decided to descend into it. She entered inside
the stones, the trees, the birds, and the water. She went into fire and air. This is the story of Sophia.
Bjonnes: This reminds me of the Tantric concept of Shakti.
Bly: Yes, exactly. Sophia--like Shakti--is an active, powerful force, all-encompassing and all-pervading energy
in nature. So why do people look for the spirit only in the heavens? The descent of Sophia is the first stage
of the later ascent of Jesus. These two are companions. It is therefore important for us to follow the
descending path of Sophia, down into nature, before attempting to ascend. The ecology movement, then, is a
response to the inability of the capitalist world to understand that Sophia is also in the rainforest. Through
the loss of the story of Sophia, the Christian Church has given permission to the capitalists to destroy nature.
This was done partly by translating the word "Sophia" as "wisdom". This destroys the story and takes away the
feminine quality. There have been many such errors in translating the Old testament, and we are suffering from
those mistakes today. You see the same kind of energy in the Lady of the Mountain as when you look at statues of
Shakti in the form of Kali. Shiva is the passive energy. In those statues, Kali often stands on top of Shiva.
In the masks of Kali, you are looking at tremendous spiritual energy.
Bjonnes: A ferocious kind of energy.
Bly: Yes, and why is it ferocious? Because it tries to defend nature, which is the embodiment of Sophia.
Bjonnes: Since nature is a manifestation of Shakti or Sophia, she is conscious and intelligent, but not having as
much selfconsciousness as humans. What is your perception of consciousness in nature?
Bly: I was actually thinking about Wordsworth's praise today: "Nature never did betray the heart that loved Her".
So, yes, it is true that there is greater self-consciousness in humans, but humans are also full of betrayal.
We betray each other all the time. The reason why Japanese poets go to nature, for example, is because "Nature
never did betray the heart that loved Her". And that's why Taoists like to move toward that which has an
affectionate consciousness, and which will not betray you. So, by destroying nature, we are destroying the one
thing in the universe that will not betray us.
Bjonnes: I have heard you also spend a lot of time in nature, especially when writing poetry.
Bly: Oh, yes. I leave the city to be in nature because it nurtures my soul. William Blake said: "The important
thing is to live in the moment during the day when the devil cannot find you". It is the moment in nature when
the devil cannot find me--it is the moment I write my poems. Blake also said: "The robin read-breast in his
cage/ puts all of heaven in a rage". In other words, our habit of imprisoning nature in a cage is felt by
heaven as a real betrayal. There is an important awareness in these words, a deep understanding of the harmony
between both the ascending and descending path.
Bjonnes: So how does modern technology fit into all of this?
Bly: Well, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to think that the computer will bring some kind of
renaissance. Technology used to move much slower before. A Japanese poet recently said: "We have moved
from walking to the rickshaw to the horse-carriage to the airplane without taking time to stop or pause".
And that is terrifying. The speed with which technology has developed is demonic. I recently read a book
in which the author said something like this: "We used to build great houses, beautiful bridges and
roads, but today we build only markets". So, the only thing that can become bigger now is the capitalist
market-place. We have simply given upon our pride in building great and beautiful things.
Roar Bjonnes is editor of Prout Journal. Robert Bly is a poet, translator and essayist. Some of his latest
books are: Meditations on the Insatiable Soul, What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?, Morning Poems, and Eating the
Honey of Words.
Volume 9, No. 2, Summer 2002 [Exact date not known]