Robert Bly

The Yellow Dot by Robert Bly

‘The Yellow Dot,’ written in remembrance of poet Jane Kenyon, is about the inevitability of death and God’s despotic ruling over humankind. It was published in Robert Bly’s best-known collection, Morning Poems (1997).

‘The Yellow Dot’ is one such poem that Bly wrote every day after waking up in the morning in the late 1990s, inspired by his fellow poet William Stafford. The “morning poem” was later compiled and published as a poetry collection first in 1997. In this poem, the “yellow dot” is a symbol of creativity as well as a concern. It represents a tiny spot in God’s big stitchwork world. However, this tiny little spot can prolong further to a grave or person’s life, which means nothing in respect to the bigger picture. Everything comes under time’s mindless scythe, be it poet Jane Kenyon or a nameless resourceful woman who spends her night stitching and weaving dreams.

The Yellow Dot by Robert Bly


Summary

‘The Yellow Dot’ by Robert Bly is written in memory of Jane Kenyon and describes how God or nature claws at human lives pretty objectively.

In this poem, Bly fuses three lines of stories into a single frame. First, he refers to God and how he acts like a resourceful woman having tractors in her backyard. Then, he describes how the woman does stitchery at night in her sewing room. Later, the poet connects these two stories with the death of Jane Kenyon and the resulting desperation of her husband, Donald Hall. Apart from that, Bly symbolizes death with the terms “Sea” and “ocean.” In the last stanza, he personifies the “ocean” or death as a chicken clawing at human lives if kept unnoticed.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

God does what she wants. She has very large

Tractors. She lives at night in the sewing room

(…)

“Don’t let her die!” But God says, “I

Need a yellow dot here, near the mailbox.”

‘The Yellow Dot’ begins with an exciting statement. The poet Robert Bly compares God to a woman who does what she feels like doing. This woman is not ordinary as it seems. She is resourceful; has “very large tractors” in her backyard. She is probably from a farming background. But, in the poem, she is not seen doing any farm work. Rather, she keeps herself busy in stitchery, spending nights in her sewing room.

Then the speaker shifts to the God narrative. Like the woman, God is not seen doing any ordinary stitchery meant for the more significant benefit of humankind. Nature, a representation of God, has become ferocious due to humankind’s actions. When the woman stitches one of her old clothes, God/nature is busy scooping large chunks of land away from the mid-sea bed. In this way, the poet hints at the effect of global warming and the rise of the seawater level, resulting in the disappearance of small islands or coral reefs.

In the following line, Bly alludes to poet Donald Hall, the “husband” of poet Jane Kenyon who died in 1995. Bly writes this piece in memory of Kenyon and sympathizes with her husband, Hall. According to him, the husband is aware of his wife’s mortality and God’s objective stitchery. He insinuates how God fills the “tiny hole” of graves with human lives and then needles a beautiful gravestone over it. The husband seeks an answer from God regarding his wife’s untimely death, but God seems to be uncaring for any lives at all. Only the “yellow dot” near the mailbox matters to him.

Stanza Two

The husband is angry. But the turbulent ocean

(…)

A Rembrandt drawing if you put it down.

Naturally, the husband becomes infuriated by God’s despotic action. For God, a tiny “yellow dot” can beautify his big piece of needlework. In contrast, it can mean the loss of loved ones or the disappearance of beautiful things of nature to humankind.

Bly compares God to a “turbulent ocean” and further compares it to a chicken. Ironically, like a chicken scratching for seeds, the ocean, a symbol of death, devours human lives. Human life means nothing to death. If one is unmindful of their loved ones, the chicken claws will tear everything apart. The “chicken’s claws” symbolize the furious and destructive nature that cannot be tamed.

In the last line, Bly compares human lives to Dutch painter Rembrandt’s drawings. Rembrandt was one of the painters of the Dutch Golden Age and considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art. By “Rembrandt drawing,” Bly probably alludes to the drawings of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia, on her sick and death bed. It is because the allusion fits the subject matter.

Structure

Bly’s ‘The Yellow Dot’ is a free-verse lyric written from the perspective of a third-person narrator. The speaker describes how God, resembling a woman, does stitchery with nature. As it is a free-verse poem, there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter. It consists of two stanzas. The first contains eleven lines, and the second one has four lines or forms a quatrain. There is a regularity in line length. The lines are cut short, and the remaining idea is dispersed into the following lines. Besides, the poem has internal rhymings that create a sort of rhythm while reading.

Literary Devices

In Bly’s ‘The Yellow Dot,’ readers can find the following literary devices:

  • Simile: It occurs in “But the turbulent ocean/ Is like a chicken scratching for seeds.” The poet compares the ocean to a chicken. It is also a use of personification.
  • Allusion: In the last line, Bly alludes to the drawings of Dutch Golden Age painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, popular as Rembrandt.
  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text that is used to connect the lines internally; for instance, the first two lines, “God does what she wants. She has very large/ Tractors,” are enjambed.
  • Metaphor: Bly compares the “grave” to a “tiny hole” in a big piece of cloth. God draws his needle through it to form a “nice pattern,” a metaphor for a gravestone.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the term “grave” in line 6 meant for the sake of emphasis.


FAQs

What is the poem ‘The Yellow Dot’ about?

Robert Bly’s ‘The Yellow Dot’ is written in remembrance of Jane Kenyon, the wife of his fellow poet and friend, Donald Hall. This poem explores how God is uncaring toward human lives, and only the great needlework of creation matters to him. It also taps on the theme of the inevitability of death and the fury of nature.

When was ‘The Yellow Dot’ published?

The poem was first published in Robert Bly’s collection, Morning Poems, in 1997. Inspired by the practice of fellow poet William Stafford, Bly started writing a poem every morning in the 1990s. Those Robert Bly poems were collected as Morning Poems.

What type of poem is ‘The Yellow Dot’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that does not have a regular rhyme scheme or metrical scheme. There are two stanzas with eleven and four lines each. Besides, the poem is written from the perspective of a third-person speaker who is none other than the poet himself.

What does “yellow dot” mean?

The “yellow dot” symbolizes death in one hand. On the other hand, it stands for a piece in God’s large needlework that is nature. In this poem, God is seen stitching a “tiny hole,” a metaphor for the “grave,” as he felt like having a “yellow dot” near the mailbox to beautify his creation.


Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that tap on the themes present in Robert Bly’s poem ‘The Yellow Dot’.

You can also explore these incredible poems about death.

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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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